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When should children get behind the wheel?

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

When Jerry Xavier posted a video of himself instructing his 10-year-old daughter how to drive, his timeline went ablaze. Some of his followers envied the move.

Some even admitted to letting their underage children drive. But others bashed him for exposing his child to danger. He finally pulled down the post after a friend, who is a child protection expert, warned him of repercussions if the video reached the authorities.

But while some parents pride themselves in their children knowing how to drive, for some, it is a heart-wrenching affair. There have been scary and even tragic stories of accidents that involved teenagers behind the wheel.

The latest one being last month, when an year 11 student at St Andrews School Turi brought a visiting day event to a standstill when in attempt to show off his driving skills to fellow students, crashed his father’s Prado onto another SUV that was parked nearby. The result was traumatised parents and students and severely damaged cars.

But there have also been positive aspects of teen driving. Take for example Edmond Mukhwana, 20. Nine years ago, at only 11 years, he saved his mother who almost died of excessive haemorraging.

“It was midnight when my mum suddenly got sick. My elder sister, who was 16 then rushed to my bedroom and asked if I could drive mum to the hospital.

errified that she could lose her life, I jumped on the wheel. I was 11 years then,” says Edmond. Upon reaching the hospital, which was over 10 kilometres away, the doctor said that his mother could have lost her life if they did not get to hospital in time.

But how did he learn to drive at such a young age? “I started falling in love with cars, just like any other boy at a young age, but unlike my siblings and other boys, I took my passion beyond the toys and images of cars in books and newspapers to studying real cars from the time I was seven years old,” he says.

He says he liked to play in his parents’ car, touching parts and sometimes asking his dad if he could try the ignition.

By the time he was nine years old, he could move the car under his dad’s supervision for a few metres, and before long he was able to safely drive for long distances. He acquired a driving licence as soon as he turned 18.

Should pre-and teenage children be allowed to drive? Legal experts say allowing an underage child to drive supervised or unsupervised contravenes section three of the Children Act.

“Although there is no law that is specific to children and driving, the legal age of driving, which is 18 years may be applied in this case and a parent maybe culpable of negligence, which infringes on the right to protection and care of a child,” says Clifford Dawe, a child advocacy lawyer.

Child psychologist, Naomi Mujomba, says before they attain the age of 18, children’s brains are still in formation and they don’t yet ‘think’ like adults since they don’t connect actions and consequences. “If you are a driver, you know how bad that could be, it is like giving a child a loaded gun,” she offers.

On the flip side, Catherine Liwa, also a psychologist, says, it depends on the maturity level of your teenage child. She backs her argument with the fact that in the US, children as young as 16 are eligible for a driving licence. “Driving is a major step in the quest for independence for a child.

It is an important milestone that allows teenagers to transition from childhood into adulthood independently. Imagine an 18-year-old who had never been given a chance to try the wheel. It could be overwhelming,” she says.

However, she notes that developing real driving readiness is not a one-size-fits-all process. It is up to the parent to gauge whether their teenager is prepared to operate a vehicle safely while they are not watching.

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