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National

Ride Along As N.Y. Teen Drivers To School For The First Time

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Seems like we've been reporting for months, now, on global crises and how world leaders and militaries are confronting them. It's worth a reminder once in a while that there are smaller victories to be won in our lives. That's why we wanted to hear from Sarah Rivers. She's a high school junior in Canton, New York. She actually lives on the outskirts of town. And she recently got her driver's license. She drove herself to school for the first time. North Country Public Radio's Sarah Harris tagged along.

SARAH HARRIS, BYLINE: It's the River's favorite breakfast today, blueberry buckle. The table's all set with plates and glasses of orange juice, fruit salad and a bouquet of wildflowers. Sarah's mom Rebecca says it's not usually like this.

REBECCA RIVERS: Usually it's a sprint because the goal is to wake up as late as possible.

SARAH RIVERS: (Laughter).

HARRIS: The Rivers always eat breakfast together on the first day of school. And after school, they always get ice cream. But today, that ritual is a little different, although Sarah's dad Will needs a reminder.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILL RIVERS: So Sarah, do you know what's happening after school? Is mom picking you up?

S. RIVERS: No, I'll have the car.

W. RIVERS: Oh, right, you have the car. Oh, my gosh.

S. RIVERS: (Laughter).

HARRIS: It's a big moment - taking the keys, taking the wheel and chauffeuring her seventh grade sister, Erin. Sarah's excited, and her parents aren't too worried.

Are you a good driver?

S. RIVERS: Yes, I like to think I'm a good driver. My family can vouch for me.

R. RIVERS: She's an excellent driver.

HARRIS: In fact, it's not even the driving Sarah's concerned about.

S. RIVERS: I have to say, I'm a little bit nervous about where I'm going to park just 'cause I know there's a lot of traffic in there in the morning.

HARRIS: But first, Sarah and Erin have to get out the door. Sarah hunts through a mound of Tupperware in search of her water bottle.

(SOUNDBITE OF TUPPERWARE CLANKING)

S. RIVERS: There it is - success.

HARRIS: She picks out a pair of gold hoop earrings and dashes a tiny bit of blush across her cheeks. Then she plucks the keys off a rack.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEYS JINGLING)

S. RIVERS: (Humming to herself) Do, do, do, do.

HARRIS: Erin's already headed to the car. Mom Rebecca hands Sarah a steaming mug of tea.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

R. RIVERS: Call me if you're going to be later than, like, three.

S. RIVERS: All righty.

R. RIVERS: Bye...Bye again.

S. RIVERS: I love you.

R. RIVERS: I love you too, honey. Have a good one.

HARRIS: It's after 7:30, and Sarah opens the door to her parents' hybrid.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEATBELT BUCKLING)

S. RIVERS: Perfect. This is one of the fancy pushbutton cars. All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

HARRIS: We go down their long, gravel driveway and turn onto the main road. Sarah's a good driver, although she does make a couple of wide turns and hit a bump a little bit hard. She's confident and a little giddy. Driving, she says, gives her the freedom to make choices.

S. RIVERS: Getting to be by yourself and, I mean, when you're driving a car, you are totally in control. And you - I mean, except for the other drivers. But you're in control, and you get to decide what roads you turn on and which route you take home and where you stop. And there's something incredibly wonderful about that.

HARRIS: Sarah turns into the high school parking lot, where there are actually a lot of empty spaces. She pulls into one, and Erin opens the door and peers out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

S. RIVERS: Is that OK on that side?

ERIN RIVERS: You're pretty close.

HARRIS: Actually, she's way crooked.

You know, you can pull forward into that space there if you want to.

S. RIVERS: I think that seems like a wonderful idea.

HARRIS: The second time around, she parks beautifully. We walk into school.

S. RIVERS: And I feel very cool walking in with a key in my hand, I have to say.

HARRIS: Sarah gets her schedule, opens her locker, unpacks her books. It's three minutes till eight. She filters into English class and snags a desk. Another school year starts, and Sarah's a little older and a little more free. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Harris in Canton, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.