By Kallie Hoffman
The ability to drive to school is a rite of passage that high school students view as part of the transition from adolescence into adulthood. When this change occurs, they are no longer a prisoner to the bus schedule or wholly dependent on mom and dad, but can finally experience a sense of autonomy in their daily lives. This privilege of driving to school comes with the expectation of parents and school administrators that the students will be cautious, act responsibly, and make safety a top priority. The amount of actual freedom is marginal, as students still need to arrive at school at the same time and can only leave campus at the end of the day. Though these rules remain, it still feels as if a greater sense of independence has been achieved. The ability to drive to school enables students to meet friends in town for a morning coffee or bagel and to purchase a few snacks at the corner market before the beginning of sports practice or other extracurricular activities. There are practical benefits to driving to school, including freeing up the schedules of parents and siblings, leading many juniors to question why they have to wait until Senior year to park at schools. The argument put forth by the students is that since they are old enough under the law to drive a car without an adult passenger, they should certainly be permitted to drive to class and park on school grounds. There is a logic to this assertion, but there are facts and circumstances that complicate the equation and support the existing policy at Byram Hills.
The exhilaration of driving a car is unmistakable, especially for teenagers who are first being introduced to the experience. The element of control is invigorating, particularly for adolescents who want to rely less on their parents and are looking for new avenues to create a sense of identity. As junior Meredith Mayers observed: “There was an open road when [she] started driving – the possibilities were endless, and [she] never wanted to stop moving.” Having been given the opportunity to drive long distances and with few, if any restrictions, high school juniors do not understand why they are not able to make the short trip from home to school. Yet these students are new drivers and are unaccustomed to taking to the road early in the morning after only a few hours of sleep. This exhaustion and lack of focus might easily create a safety hazard, as young drivers are prone to speeding and have generally not been exposed to heavy traffic or the kind of icy road conditions that they are likely to encounter on chilly winter mornings. There is some value in waiting until these students gain more experience on the road before they commute to school on their own, as this would greatly reduce the risk of an accident. Moreover, even adults who have been driving for decades find it challenging to navigate the campus of Byram Hills during the busiest periods of the day. Senior Dylan Geller remarked that one of the “toughest places to drive is the school parking lot. Everyone is crammed into tight spaces, and it is always hectic pulling in and out of spots at the beginning and end of every day.” Many of the juniors may be excellent drivers, confident and alert, but an additional year of practice and experience will help them prepare for the challenges that await them in any high school parking lot.
In addition to all the obvious issues related to safety, there are logistical barriers to allowing juniors to drive to school at Byram Hills. A large part of it is simple math, as there are only so many parking spots available to teachers, students, and faculty on the grounds of the campus. Under the present regime, students are permitted to park at the school beginning in the spring of their junior year, at the time in the semester when seniors are off-site, attending to mandatory internships. In this zero-sum game, once the seniors cease using parking spots at Byram Hills, space is available to be occupied by the juniors. This is not to dismiss the practical considerations expressed by the juniors, many of which are valid and even compelling. There are not many seventeen-year-olds who desire to take the bus to school – a status they equate with listening to the music of the Backstreet Boys. As a result, teenagers often expect their parents to drive them to school and pick them up, but this can be extremely burdensome for families in which both parents are employed full-time. Junior Kate Klein says that if she had her car at school, “[she] would be able to drive home whenever [her] parents were unavailable, and [she] would not waste hours sitting outside waiting for a ride.” This situation is all too familiar for students, many of whom are frustrated by the inefficient use of their time. Yet in the words of Albert Einstein, “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” In this instance, the pure math says simply that there are not enough parking spots to go around. Junior Ethan Burke pondered the predicament and suggested “a rotation system where juniors alternate who gets to drive each week,” but he also conceded that this approach might create unnecessary confusion and conflict. There is also a matter of tradition, where generations of students at Byram Hills have waited until Senior year before they were able to drive to school. As Senior Lauren Selkin casually noted, “The system works, so why mess with it?” She probably has a point. Juniors have waited sixteen years to secure a license to drive, they can wait one more year to earn a parking spot at the school.