hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work he goes (on a scooter?)
September 28, 2010 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Should I buy my teenage son a scooter to get to work?

My son is 16 and not ready to drive. He's taken driver's ed and driven with me and I'm not concerned about his skills as a driver, but I won't let him get his license until he has a job and can pay for his insurance himself. (I want him to have some investment in the license/car/freedom.) We live in a nice compact little city where there are a good number of scooters scooting around. There are also lots of businesses within walking (skateboarding) distance, but many of them are small, indie, villagey places that make it a great place to live but not such a great place to find a job. So he may need to head out to the 'burbs and find work at Taco Bell.

Another wrinkle is that he has a good bit of anxiety related to getting a job, and he's put it off for 6 months now. I haven't pushed it because it's his money/license/freedom/independence at stake and he's eventually going to work in order to gain all those things, and because the last thing someone who's stressing about something needs is for their mom to nag them about it. I have pretty much cut him off financially though, in the sense of no more pizza money on request, no more covering admission to this or that tournament, etc. He's a good saver so he's been dipping into savings for that stuff for a few weeks now, and the upshot is that he is starting to make noises about finding a job. (He is also in school, babysits, did a week repairing houses in Appalachia last summer, etc. so although he is a typical skater-slacker, he is not a bum.)

So I'm not sure if getting him a used scooter is backing down on the "you're not driving until you're contributing" rule (which I think is important) or if it means I'm helping him become the self-sufficient person I want him to be. This may be a no-brainer objectively, but I'm the mom, so definitely not objective. Scooters where we live do not require licenses or insurance.

It's now the end of September and it would be a Christmas gift.
posted by headnsouth to Work & Money (53 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get him a bicycle. It should be good for a 5-10 mile radius
posted by Doohickie at 11:40 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hmm, sorry, I forgot to put something in there about a bicycle. I don't really want him to be riding a bicycle 10+ miles on dark curvy roads at midnight after working the closing shift somewhere. And public transport is in the city only (not suburbs), and pretty limited.
posted by headnsouth at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2010

I don't really want him to be riding a bicycle 10+ miles on dark curvy roads at midnight after working the closing shift somewhere.

I don't think a scooter is much better, in that regard.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2010 [34 favorites]

Agreed with Doohickie.

And maybe you're being a bit too hard on your kid with the pressure to "contribute"? I don't know of too many kids who had jobs during the school-year that took up more than a few hours a week. There's no way I could have ever afforded a car+insurance+gas while paying attention to academics in HS -- doubly so if I was playing a sport that season. If he's in school, expecting full self-sufficiency is a completely unattainable goal -- these days, high school is a full-time job.

Also be sure that you're not pressuring him to get a job so that he can pay for a car whose sole purpose is to get him to his job.

posted by schmod at 11:51 AM on September 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm a scooter owner in Southern California. Here's one major thing to consider - I see you live in VA, and a scooter is a whole order of magnitude less safe in poor weather. How do you feel about him taking those winding roads at midnight in the rain? Would you let him have a motorcycle? Because a scooter is basically just a step-through (and possibly underpowered, depending) motorbike. Personally I'd spend the scooter money on a cheap second-hand car - it's much safer, and more useful for transporting stuff.
posted by crabintheocean at 11:57 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really don't think that a scooter is practical beyond 5 miles or so, especially if your concern is about dark curvy roads at midnight.

What you're doing is setting up a sort of catch-22. He can't get a license without a job, but he can't get a job without a license. It's your decision, of course, but maybe you can have your son's "contribution" as a condition of having a license and a car the requirement that he run errands using the car, freeing up more of your time.
posted by deanc at 11:58 AM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't expect full self-sufficiency, sorry if it sounded like that. I expect him to contribute, to be responsible, and to take driving seriously. Anything that he contributes will be nominal, and I'll sock it away and give it back to him at some point in the form of a car, or down payment on a house, or whatever.

I don't think a bicycle will meet his needs here. It's either a scooter, or I drive him back and forth to/from whatever job he has, which limits his availability because I can't give him rides right after school, etc.
posted by headnsouth at 12:00 PM on September 28, 2010

Depending on traffic, scooters can be more dangerous than motorcycles. If surrounding traffic exceeds 30mph (the typical top speed of a 50cc four-stroke scooter), the scooter becomes, like a bicycle, an impediment to traffic. This results in all kinds of crazy passes by cars and trucks. A motorcycle has full command of its lane and isn't obliged to share pavement with cars like bicycles and scooters are.

If he needs more mobility than a bicycle can provide, consider a small-displacement motorcycle like a Yamaha XT250.
posted by workerant at 12:01 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh also, just because you're legally allowed to do it without a license or insurance, doesn't mean you should! You should also check what the CC limit is on that no license/no insurance rule, because it might only allow for a scooter that's so underpowered it can't safely keep up with traffic, and it's much safer to ride one when you can keep ahead of cars and accelerate out of trouble.

Please don't let him ride a scooter without proper gear (which will run at least a couple hundred $), and without taking a motorcycle safety course - it really is essential, a two wheeled vehicle doesn't behave like a car.

I guess my advice just boils down to the suggestion that you treat a scooter like any other motorbike, and think realistically about what it's actually like as a vehicle! I own a scooter and I love them, but in your shoes I don't think I'd put my son on one.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:05 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding deanc.

If he winds up being irresponsible or unwilling to assist as a driver, it's only a few ratchet turns to take away some spark plugs.

When I was in high school I had a job working at a local sub/pizza shop 12 hours/week, while playing sports, while being in multiple activities and taking an honors course load. It was hell on earth when my "freedom" was to go to work Friday and Saturday nights. My parents were okay with me quitting the $5.15/hr job.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:07 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think the scooter is going to be the right choice for the concerns you have.

I also feel that there's a bit of setting up for failure as well. My mother considered my contribution for getting a license that I had to do the grocery shopping and run errands. Also, I can't say what the unemployment rate is where you are, but I know when I was 16 and 17 I was competing with grad students for the Taco Bell sort of jobs.
posted by Zophi at 12:08 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't live in same Virginia that the rest of us Virginians do. Your part of Virginia has real winters, with snow and ice! A scooter isn't going to be practical for half the school year. Honestly I think expecting a 16 year old that is in school to be financially self sufficient is sort of ludicrous. (And I say this as a parent of a 16 year old). The economy sucks, most of the part time jobs kids used to get are taken by adults trying to feed their families. School is 8 hours a day when you factor in transport time. Homework is 2-3 hours a night. He is 16 so slacking off on a skateboard, playing video games, sports, etc are not wasting time, They are an essential part of being a teenager and growing into an adult. He isn't there yet. Yes, parents may be too coddling of teens theses days, but I think you are over correcting too far in the opposite direction.

If he needs a car for work, after school activities etc then it is your responsibility as the parent to help him get one, with him providing a reasonable about of the financial support to do so. If he doesn't need a car, or you can't afford it, that is fine too. The first car I owned was the one I bought after I graduated from college. Learning to bum rides is also an important developmental skill for a teen :)
posted by COD at 12:08 PM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Can you describe more specifically what you mean by 'scooter'? If you mean a vespa or a vino, he would have to have a licence and insurance, and though gas would be cheaper than a car, the cost of a vespa would likely rival that of a cheap car.

If you mean an electric bicycle or mopped, I agree with workerant. Here in toronto they sort of don't fit in anywhere. Drivers don't respect them and wont share the road, while cyclists hate them for frequent and fast passing and wont share the bike lanes. They're hated by all. They wouldn't offer any more safety than a bicycle would, and would be hello to push if it broke down. Both options would be hello to ride in the rain, and would likely be useless (or at least dangerous) in the snow.

On the plus side....well, my mother was very keen to but me a vespa in high school so that she could borrow it and ride it. But I did resist, as I didn't want to deal with it in the rainy winters of the pacific northwest.
posted by custard heart at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My parents put me in the situation deanc mentions - the catch-22 of "you can't have a car until you have a job, but you can't get a job until you get a car." All that ended up accomplishing was that I didn't get a car until my senior year of college.

Do you have a timeline set up here? If you don't get the scooter and you will be driving him back and forth, how long will that last? Based on my own experience, I don't think it would be considered "backing down" on the no driving until you can contribute thing if the car comes at the exact same time the job starts and it is very clear that the car only stays as long as the job does.
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:14 PM on September 28, 2010

What about thinking of the car startup funds as a short-term loan?
Eg, you will put in $x for start-up (to buy and register and insure it for the first year) and he will pay you back within y time period for the insurance, and then take on the ongoing gas and insurance and repair/upkeep costs? And if he doesn't pay back within the time period, then there's z consequence (eg he can only use the car to go to work, or you sell the car, or something else)?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:14 PM on September 28, 2010

Getting a vehicle as a student in order to have a job, results in having a job to have a vehicle. He's 16, his "job" is to be a student. If he wants to work to earn some spending money, he will find a way to do so. Also, as stated, your weather isn't conducive to a scooter being a year-round vehicle, so it is really not a solution at all.

There are also other reasons for which I would not recommend that you, as a parent, purchase a scooter for him. MeMail me and I'll explain that to you if you would like.
posted by HuronBob at 12:16 PM on September 28, 2010

Sorry for the triple post, but what you're talking about under VA DMV rules is a moped not a scooter. It's not the Vespa looking thing you might be thinking of or seeing in your town. The page I linked to says you need a motorcycle license for anything that can exceed 35mph (my 150cc Vespa can do 70). With those restrictions you might as well just get a pedal bike - at least it's light and cheap.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:18 PM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: Please. No Scooter.

You do not not not want your son on a scooter after the late shift. Drivers that are sleepy/high/drunk/chatting on cell phones - all pretty common at that hour. Most people aren't watching out for cyclists and scooters during the day. At night? Even worse.

Cab, carpool or rides from Mom.

Plus. He may find a job closer to home, you just don't know yet.

Hope it all works out.

(I live in LA and almost got a scooter for in-town. Friends talked me out of it because they love me. They were right. Even here, I rarely see scooter drivers on the road at night... and we don't have lots of rain or any ice on the roads. Scooters are totally cool. But sadly, not so safe.)
posted by jbenben at 12:25 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a scooter (Yamaha) that I drive in all sorts of weather. I will drive it on wet roads, although you need to be dressed for it, but not in snow or ice unless in a parking lot doing doughnuts having fun. I also used to have a small motorcycle in college (in Virginia). My only concern is that not being an experienced driver himself, he is not practiced in the art of anticipating what other drivers will do. If he is the careful type, I think it is reasonable to try it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:26 PM on September 28, 2010

I think it's fine that you expect him to get a job. I got a job when I was 16, had extra curricular activities, and still graduated with honors (and got a full ride scholarship). That said, I think it's much, much better that you get him a reliable used car instead of a scooter. It's safer and more practical. You can make him responsible for maintenance costs, gas, and insurance to whatever degree you feel is appropriate, and he can even repay you part of the purchase price. You could even make the car contingent on getting the job first (I think that's what my mom did, I remember getting rides or borrowing her car for the first couple of weeks until we found the right beater for a 16 year old).

Seriously, working as a teenager gave me life skills that I see sorely missing in the kids passing through my office today. It's like they feel certain work is beneath them, because their parents told them they shouldn't "waste their time" on menial labor. That kind of labor may be menial, but it gives a reference point on work that is invaluable.

Oh, and when my mom gave me my car, the first thing she made me do was learn to change my own oil, rotate my own tires, and how to use jumper cables.
posted by kimdog at 12:28 PM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Learning to bum rides is also an important developmental skill for a teen :)

This. I made it through HS and college without a car (both in much more car-dependent places than Roanoke), and then bought one so that I could have a reasonable hope of finding a job.

About 2 months after buying the car, I got offered a job in a city with good public transportation. Go figure.

Although I suppose this would be a good wake-up call as to how expensive a car is to own and operate. Americans seem to take the enormous costs associated with owning a car for granted.
posted by schmod at 12:29 PM on September 28, 2010

This thread and this one have some very relevant points. Rather than repeat my comments from those threads, I'll just say that riding my scooter on dark curvy roads at midnight was probably the most terrifying experience in my life; I'd rather do it on a bicycle any day.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2010

I don't know what the work rules are in VA, but here in MI, a 16 year old can't work the midnight or closing shifts. Got to be done with work by 10 pm. I'm assuming that your area has no bus transportation? Of course, buses after 10 pm get sketchy (assume out of work at 10, on the bus by 10:30?) no matter where you live.

Nthing the difference between <4>50cc. One requires a license and one doesn't (in most places). But you'd be hard pressed to find a more dependable small bore vehicle than this Honda (41 seconds in). No license for under 50cc and under 35 mph. Both are reasonable and by the time the snow flies, you'll both be making plans for his first car.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:51 PM on September 28, 2010

(that's supposed to be under 49cc and over 50cc)
posted by beelzbubba at 12:52 PM on September 28, 2010

It's fine to get him one, but please have him take the motorcycle course at a local college or dealership -- it will make him a much better, safer rider, and make him less of a danger to others.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:56 PM on September 28, 2010

From what I know of Virginia law "Scooters where we live do not require licenses or insurance" likely refers to just 50cc models (technically 49cc); I don't know if I'd recommend a 50cc scooter for going 10+ miles in Roanoke- 50cc scooters are good for cities, but since their top speed is ~35 MPH they "become unsafe" when travelling on roads where the posted speed limit is over 40 MPH. Inclement weather aside an 80cc or 125cc scooter would be better in that situation as it would be able to maintain the same speed as surrounding traffic, but anything over 50cc will cost a lot more and have more stringent rules for licensing and plating. A generic 50cc runs about $1,000 new, a decent one like a Yamaha, Honda, or Kymco willl run you $2,000-$2,500 new, and a name brand 125+cc will likely start at $2,500. A used Honda Elite 80 would probably be the best fit for price and speed/range. You likely won't get "busted" with an unregistered 80cc scooter as they're not significantly larger than the 50s, but a 125cc scooter will probably be larger and draw more attention.
posted by Challahtronix at 1:06 PM on September 28, 2010

I am a motorcyclist, and I find scooters terrifying for the reasons workerant described. On the basis of safety alone, I urge you to reconsider buying an old, ugly car for your son to make do with. Two-wheeled vehicles come with a whole slew of unique dangers that your son's driver's ed has not prepared him for. And he's a new driver to boot. In my opinion, too dangerous.

But also logistically, neither of your proposed options make much sense in light of your goals. Your son can't ride a scooter through the winter and you can't drive your son whenever he needs. I started working part-time when I was 15 and the kinds of jobs your son can get at this age probably won't come with the benefit of a steady schedule (so a nightmare to coordinate rides) and availability is often a big factor in hiring (because let's face it -- your son isn't getting hired at Taco Bell because he aced his History class, it's because he's able to show up when they need him).

I'm of the mind that allowing your son the use of a car won't take away from your life lessons as much as you think. My own parents continued paying for all my school and living expenses while cutting off spending money, and that alone provided plenty of motivation for me to keep working. Just like kimdog, I feel that I gained a distinct advantage over other grads when I first entered the workforce full-time.

Also, I'd reconsider placing such a high value on monetary contributions specifically. You don't want your son's feelings of self-worth to get tied up with how much he makes and how much money he can give. My mom used to love it when I'd spend an afternoon weeding her garden with her. Helping out with chores such as that combined hard work and the accomplishment of a goal, while providing quality bonding time between us.
posted by keep it under cover at 1:06 PM on September 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm not crazy about the scooter idea, either- especially if he'll basically be commuting on it. Could you make him a deal in which you'll provide the car up front with the requirement that he find a job within a certain time frame? Or would you be willing to transport him back and forth to fill out applications and go to interviews and such with the expectation that as soon as he lands a job, you'll get him the car? It sounds like there's a car in the future anyway, and if you get him a scooter first, then you'll be out whatever it cost (or the depreciation at least) once the four-wheeled transportation comes along.
posted by Shohn at 1:10 PM on September 28, 2010

I freaked out when my sister was looking for a scooter for around-town transport because they are JUST NOT safe. Even with a ton of scooter-riders in our little college town, the roads here are just not safe for the people on scooters. We fortunately were able to work out another arrangement for her.

If there are a lot of scooters in your area, you might find accident rates and injury rates on scooters interesting. Maybe you could get that from your local police department? Hey, maybe the car drivers in your area are more alert than the college kids that are all over my town. Maybe scooter accidents in your area are rare and don't tend to result in terrible injuries when they do happen.
posted by galadriel at 1:12 PM on September 28, 2010

I think unless he's really pushing for one, to skip it.

You get all the down side of a motorcycle - other drivers or road debris can be fatal, weather problems, maintenance issues with the scooter (oil, tires, chains) - without the size (visibility) or power to avoid situations like a real motorcycle. Add his inexperience on the road at all, much less with a vehicle that requires counter steering and can easily fall over if braked hard without the proper technique and you could have problems.

Check your area because I know in VA there are many paved paths that are open to bikes, but closed to all motorized vehicles.
posted by anti social order at 1:18 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

What about getting him a car but only allowing him to use it for job interviews and errands for you until he can contribute to the insurance?
posted by Gor-ella at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2010

My son is almost your son's age, and the driver's ed/licensing question is fast approaching. For my son, I think it will be important for him to have as much experience as possible driving now, when he's still somewhat under my thumb and I've got leverage. It will also be a huge relief to get me out of having to drive him most places. Given those two considerations, for me, it would make more sense to go ahead and pony up for the extra insurance cost NOW, rather than make him pay for it out of money he doesn't have and save my own money and put it towards car and/or downpayment on a house in his future.

Did I mention what a huge relief it will be to not have to chauffeur him around? 'Cause the relief. It's gonna be huge. That's worth some cash money, right there.
posted by drlith at 1:50 PM on September 28, 2010

I live in a college town where scooter riders are everywhere and honestly? I want to call all their moms. Yeah, they're more visible than a bike, and yeah, if need be they can zip away from danger faster than a bike. However, I find it pretty heart-stopping to watch some 18-year-old on a scooter in the middle of rush hour traffic, zipping through the bike lane and then swerving in and out of car lanes. Even if your son is smarter and safer than some of the scooter riders I see, it's still a vehicle that feels like it can almost keep pace with traffic, whereas on a bike you know your limitations.

What if you did what my parents did, and made your car available for him to use for non-social things, like getting to his job? I got to use their car to drive myself and my brother to and from school, and get to and from my after school job. Other uses of the car were negotiated, not assumed. Even if your need for your car meant had to buy a beater (which I imagine you could do for only slightly more than or even equal to the cost of a scooter), you could still limit his use of the car until he'd saved up enough to pay for his insurance.

As to his job-hunting anxiety, I had a couple thoughts. I felt exactly the same way when I was 16. After a couple months of saying I was going to look for a job, my mom literally made me get in the car and drove me to the places I'd been talking about applying. Then she made me go in and ask for an application, waited for me in the parking lot, and drove to the next place. I had a job within a week. The whole time she told me several things over and over: I was not weird or stupid for feeling nervous about getting my first job, looking for a job is hard for nearly everyone, I was her smart, capable daughter, and no, she would not drive me home yet.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't get him a scooter just because 16 year old boys typically drive like dicks, regardless of what they promise. And only that reason. I rode motorbikes and scooters at that age and the big difference between then and now is ability to empathise with what other road users would do. And I don't ride like a dick now.

Strong defensive riding, a fluorescent jacket and a white helmet go some way towards being safer on the road. If you can drill defensive riding into your son then it becomes a possibility.

Sorry, but some of the comments above don't read like they were written by someone who has ridden a scooter.

A new, derestricted, 50cc scooter will do 45mph. Restricted, it will do about 35. It doesn't have tons of power, but without a passenger is not particularly slow off the mark. Curvy roads are not an issue - the scooter won't be going fast enough for it to be problematic.

I'm not sure I'd want to go miles and miles on one but I've happily done 40 miles in the UK out of town on a 125cc scooter on major roads. A new 125 cc scooter will do 70mph. Mine did, daily They're generally fine in wet weather, although not so much when there are crosswinds. A scooter is no more or less visible than a motorbike. A scooter doesn't handle as well at speed as a motorbike because of its higher center of gravity, but has better handling at low speeds.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:59 PM on September 28, 2010

"Should I buy my teenage son a scooter to get to work?"

Do you want your teenage son to survive to become an adult son?

It boggles my mind how many parents think that an appropriate first form of self-transportation for their teenage children is something cheap, flimsy, and relatively dangerous, and that cost is the primary consideration. Teenagers, especially teenage boys, are worse drivers than adults. They should be driving Volvos or other newer cars with modern safety features, even if that's a more expensive and nicer car than yours.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't get him a scooter.

I got a driver's license at 17, I didn't get a car until I was 19. I didn't learn to ride a motorcycle until I was 33.

My immediate thought upon learning to ride a motorcycle?

"Wow, it's a *very good* thing that I didn't have a motorcycle at 18.

When I was 19, I had a little Toyota Corolla, power nothing, dinky engine, etc.

I drove the wheels off that thing. It's what you do when you're a teenage boy.

As others have said, even a 49cc scooter will do 40mph - that's enough to get into a very serious accident. And even if your son is god's gift to safe, responsible, driving, that doesn't say anything about all the other idiots out on the road.

The Hurt Report may be over 30 years old now, but it's still the best study out there of Motorcycle accidents. Paraphrasing it, 60%+ of all accidents are rider mistakes (single vehicle crash), and 20% are cars violating right-of-way because the motorcycle isn't seen.

And Scooters can be driven recklessly too.
posted by swngnmonk at 2:36 PM on September 28, 2010

A new, derestricted, 50cc scooter will do 45mph. Restricted, it will do about 35. It doesn't have tons of power, but without a passenger is not particularly slow off the mark. Curvy roads are not an issue - the scooter won't be going fast enough for it to be problematic.

I have to disagree with this one on one major, major point. 35mph is still plenty fast enough to do serious damage to ones' self in the event of an accident.
posted by swngnmonk at 2:40 PM on September 28, 2010

If he's not ready to drive, he's not ready for a scooter.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:43 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please don't let him ride a scooter without proper gear (which will run at least a couple hundred $)
At the risk of repeating the same comment I make everywhere, to ride at any speed outside your driveway you must have a helmet, preferably a full face one, a thick jacket designed for motorcycling, gloves, heavy boots and ideally leather pants or motorcyclists' jeans as well.

You can afford a lot more small car for the money than you can afford a small motorbike or scooter.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

It was always my plan to provide a car for my kid. Not a great car - probably a wagon, and probably pretty beat up, but mechanically sound. It'd be their responsibility to pay for gas and insurance, but it would remain /my/ car. That has the benefit of being able to take it back as the ultimate end all form of punishment, if it ever came down to that.

In your place, I'd consider buying a beater that he has the conditional use of (dependent on school attendance, maintaining a certain GPA, etc); if he wants to buy it, then come to a price you both agree on, and maybe split it, and let him pay it off over time?
posted by lemniskate at 3:04 PM on September 28, 2010

Response by poster: What y'all have written about safety is resonating. They're not vespas around here, they're 49cc mopeds, and he would pretty much only use it for work and getting back and forth on his own to friends' houses, and I would have him wear all the sensible safety gear and take a motorcycle safety course, but still...

Again I apologize for not making myself clear. The money issue is not about what I can afford, it's about him taking responsibility for his increasing freedom---and having some success/sense of accomplishment by doing well at work and making money of his own/saving money/etc. Buying him a car is just simply not an option, for those and other reasons. We live in a very walkable city and we have a car, we do not need two. I have some flexibility with my own schedule so we can make it work for a while.
posted by headnsouth at 3:07 PM on September 28, 2010

Piling on. I can't imagine putting my (imaginary, non-existent) teenanger on a scooter instead of in a small used car I picked up specifically for its tank-like properties. Teenagers will always drive like maniacs, and I'd much rather have mine protected within the confines of very-visible vehicle with crumple zones and airbags than wide out in the open air subject to not only their own stupidity but the stupidity of those around them.

I used to work with a kid, not much older than your son, who drove a scooter to/from work. His commute had to be at least 7-8 miles. This was small-town too, not even' burbs. I swear he was telling us stories about how he was just about killed thanks to some other dumbass on the road at least twice a week. As I myself was quite often stuck behind him on that dark curvy road at night, going no more than 30 mph, and unable to pass him... even I was frustrated to be going so slow. I can easily see how someone less patient would've tried to whip around him, putting everybody in danger.
posted by cgg at 3:07 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

My son got his first car at 17--and it cost him 800 dollars that he earned himself (he started working the week after he rather innocently totalled his mom's car in our parking lot at 16, his second day with a solo license), and he paid the incremental insurance increase. It was a Honda Civic DX, not much bigger than a 50cc moped, but with doors and a body and smaller but wider tires. If he had asked me about a 50cc scooter, I'm not sure what I would have said, but since we have winter seemingly year round here, I'm pretty sure I would not have endorsed the idea.

That said, he's had scuffs & scrapes with a variety of cars but it was a random piece of sidewalk that threw him off his bicycle at age 30, and landed him in the emergency room & got him a shiny new hip screw. So, take all the dire predictions with a grain of salt. You can get hit by a bus when you are walking--the Honda C50s are one of the most reliable and safe vehicles. It is the idiots in their 20 passenger Yukons that are the problem
posted by beelzbubba at 3:33 PM on September 28, 2010

I would be very wary of operating anything on a road without insurance, period. I would be especially wary of operating something with a tiny engine and two wheels.

If you decide you must get him a moped/scooter, make sure you get him insured, even if he has to pay you back after he gets his job. He may not thank you at the time, but he'll thank you if he ever has a claim against him, or he gets hurt riding.
posted by Alterscape at 4:37 PM on September 28, 2010

Another option. Could you get him a bike and you a bike rack for the car? Then he can go straight to work after school, and you can pick him and the bike up at the end of his shift when it's dark.
posted by kjs4 at 4:52 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

We live in a very walkable city and we have a car, we do not need two. I have some flexibility with my own schedule so we can make it work for a while.

I think you need to chalk this situation up to the economy being in serious dire straits right now if he can't find a job locally. Having an after school/weekend job a few days a week nearby is one thing. Commuting 20 miles round trip for the privilege of paying for the upkeep on a car sounds sisyphean. I'd give him a license, pick up the insurance, and stick to one car which you allow him to borrow occasionally, giving you the chance to use him for errand-running, taking some responsibility for the household, as well as freeing up some time for yourself and giving him experience driving. The latter is kind of key: regardless of whether he gets a job or not, if he doesn't learn to drive and get a license before he leaves for college, he's not going to learn for at least 4 years after that.

It just sounds like there aren't that many jobs available in the surrounding neighborhoods in your otherwise very walkable city, so both of your possible plans (has his own money to have a car or has a scooter to get to a job) don't seem feasible. You could pick up the insurance now, allowing him to drive, but make having his own car contingent on having a job. When he gets job, then switch financial responsibilities: buy him a cheap car and have him pay for gas and insurance.
posted by deanc at 5:51 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As a 39-year-old who has been driving on his own dime since 16, and riding a scooter since 38, I can offer the following advice:

All new drivers/riders make a disproportionate number of mistakes. The mistakes you make on a scooter or motorcycle -- directly in the right-of-way of much larger vehicles, and at speeds far exceeding that of a bicycle -- are much more likely to cause grave injury to the person operating the vehicle than similar mistakes in a car. The upshot is that he's less likely to cause property damage or grievous bodily harm to pedestrians, if only because of the noise and the smaller footprint (although great harm and property damage can still be caused.)

All new male drivers -- myself included, and I was just about the sweetest, nicest, most mature and non-showy teenager you ever did see -- are going to try reckless things for the fun of it. See my previous paragraph.

Finally, sending your son off to Taco Bell in a car in order to make more money than the local places offer is going to be counterproductive, because that additional money will end up eaten by costs associated with owning and operating that car. The autonomy of a car comes at a significant cost, and there are similar costs associated with scooters and motorcycles.

If you want to support your son, but without encouraging reckless and/or cost-inefficient behavior, I would recommend this:

First, help him get to/from the job interviews for local jobs, within biking distance. Then, when he lands the first job, buy him a beater bike and let him know that if he saves up 50% of the price of a nice new one, you'll front him the other 50%. Odds are, once he sees how little he's making, he'll decide to keep the beater, but if he saves the money, that's nice too.

For the longer term, if he finds a better job that is further out but appears to be lucrative enough to make it worthwhile, calculate the costs of a second-hand beater for yourself that you'd allow him to use if he pays gas and insurance, then sit down and show him how the math works out (or doesn't.) Then proceed accordingly.

Finally: whatever you decide to do, if he ends up in a motorized vehicle, pay to have him properly trained, even if that training seems excessive, and don't push him into a choice he isn't comfortable with*.

I have two brothers-in-law who turned 18 in a rural area in upstate new york, and their grandfather insisted on buying them cars. One, who had opportunities that required a car and an enthusiasm for driving (plus a careful nature) accepted and has put it to good use; the other, who didn't need the car, didn't want the car, and who had it purchase for him anyway, started driving it and totaled it within two weeks, flipping it over in a single-car accident not because he was driving recklessly but because he was bored and playing with the radio. His grandfather insisted on replacing it, and he (wisely) never drove it, so a few years later the second one is still sitting in the driveway being neglected.
posted by davejay at 6:09 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We were nearly in the exact same position as you three years ago. Our son was seventeen, needed to get around, and was NOT ready for a car. We also live in a compact southern town that is filled with scooters. We did buy a scooter for our son, and it was one of the worst decisions we ever made. He never got hit, thank god, and he was diligent about wearing protective gear, but he did wreck the damn thing about six months after we got it (and in NC our insurance company would not cover a 49 cc). We ended up with a $ 2000 hospital bill and a completely useless broken scooter.
One of my biggest concerns always was the possibility that although these little scooters are not built for two people, they can ride two. My son and his idiot friends used to ride all over - together - both on his scooter, and him on the back of other people's scooters. What if another kid had been hurt? We dodged a major bullet that our son was alone when he injured himself and wrecked the damn thing.
He is now nineteen and in possession of a beater car. The damn thing is a tank, and it is ugly as sin. It is also about an order of magnitude safer than the scooter.
Furthermore, he admits to having been really dumb and careless when he was sixteen. He is now a slightly less stupid nineteen year old and wouldn't climb on a scooter if you paid him.
I guess the take-away message as a parent who was once in your shoes not that long ago is that I would NEVER go the scooter route again.
posted by msali at 6:15 PM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I rode a scooter/moped when I was 18 for about a year (no car) and I can tell you from a kid's perspective what's gonna happen. "Oh this thing is sweet, I wonder how far I can jump it.."

Me and my friends all got scooters. There were at least eight of us buzzing around the parking lot during lunch break our senior year. In the summer time I put 80-100 miles on it every day. No exaggeration. It was some of the most fun I've ever had. That being said, a scooter is not going to teach your kid anything about "taking driving seriously". If anything, it'll do the opposite. I know, I almost killed myself on it a couple times, because it just feels like a big fast bike -- it's just a big toy. You want your kid to learn about the road and driving and safety and all that in an enclosed car, not a scooter. It's a whole different world.

I drove a $400.00 Ford Escort across the country and back (14,000 miles) at age 23. Buy him a beater. The worst that could happen is that the thing will break down and you'll have to go pick his ass up once or twice. The fact is that by driving old beaters, it forces the kid to learn how to fix a car. It teaches him that he needs to have a little money stashed away for maintenance. He won't have a choice. In order to get where he wants to go, he'll have to fix and maintain his car. It's a great life lesson...

The only reason I had the confidence to take a beater across the country like that was because I knew I could probably fix it if it broke down, because I had been driving and fixing beaters for the last 7 years of my life. At some point you grow up and you invest in a newer, more reliable vehicle, but by that point you've already learned how to diagnose and fix most common problems..
posted by Glendale at 7:12 PM on September 28, 2010

Please don't get him a scooter. My brother and I literally grew up riding a Honda Spree so it was second nature to us once we were licensing age, but my brother still managed to dump the thing and got a good amount of road rash. I can't imagine what it would feel like to know my child hurt himself, or worse, because I wanted him to learn a lesson about responsibility so I didn't front him a grand for a beater car. Seriously, teenage boys are dumb as rocks when it comes to driving. A seatbelt and airbag is something he should have.

That being said... I think you're overlooking the bicycle thing. He can ride just as safely as a scooter provided he has good front and rear lights, and he has the added advantage of riding slowly on a sidewalk (just beware of pedestrians and at intersections) if it's really late at night and he feels uncomfortable with road traffic. And yeah, he can be picked up on rainy nights or when he's just exhausted - not so much with a scooter. And scooters get stolen - just happened to a friend of mine. And then you're out $1500? $2k?
posted by kpht at 7:18 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

and take a motorcycle safety course

Another couple hundred bucks. You don't get a motorcycle (scooter or otherwise) to save money. (Don't even start me on tire lifespan and cost.)
posted by mendel at 8:55 PM on September 28, 2010

Would you rather your son crashed at 15mph, or at 45mph? Motorbikes/scooters are more dangerous than bicycles. If you want to buy him a form of transport you should buy him a good road bike, a helmet, reflective clothing, and a set of good lights.

Unless he's got to go more than 10 miles each way I don't think it makes sense to use a scooter in preference to a bicycle. They are pretty expensive, especially when you add the cost for safety gear and training, even if insurance is not required. On this note what does that mean in practice? If he is involved in an accident does that mean he will be 100% liable for all damage? That's a big responsibility - I'd at least want 3rd party coverage.

In any case, IMHO, a 16 year old is too young to drive either a scooter or a car. I certainly wasn't ready at that age.
posted by jonesor at 2:41 AM on September 29, 2010

I'm adding this because I stumbled across the thread, and because someone else might find this useful. Why does a job, particularly for a boy, always have to be Taco Bell or wherever? What's wrong with babysitting? I'm a girl, yes, and I realize that certain people are more comfortable with me babysitting, but I think that plenty of people, particularly parents of boys, would enjoy having a boy babysit. I often make $50+ per night, and I've been financially independent as far as clothes, food, movies, etc. go since middle school. My parents do pay my insurance. It's good money, not hard work, and often more local. Doesn't really address the vehicle question but it might be a good stepping stone toward being able to afford things, especially because it isn't an all or nothing deal.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:34 PM on February 24, 2011

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