Last summer, I got the chance to do what many teens look forward to doing: drive.

From a teenager’s perspective, driving is about getting the opportunity to be independent.

But it’s also about growing up and acting mature.

Not only did I experience something new, I experienced reality. Driving is a responsibility, not something you do based on a video game.

After six weeks of driver’s education, I realized that being behind the wheel is a serious commitment.

Now, I’ve heard the statistics many times. According to www.impactteendrivers.org, crashes that occur in the United States are more common among young drivers than those with more experience. One in four crashes results in the deaths of people ages 16 to 24. Cellphones, eating while driving or simply not watching the road can play a huge part in these crashes.

Just knowing all that information is shocking. Anyone can be the victim of an accident.

My parents were hesitant about me driving, because I was only 15. I convinced them with my constant pleading and strong commitment. After school got out last summer, I attended my first class at Parkside Driving School, after a $340 fee was paid. To obtain an instruction permit, I had to go to the Department of Licensing in Union Gap — that was an additional $20 fee.

Before I knew it, I could finally hit the road!

I loved every minute of driving (I can’t say my parents felt the same). For starters, I practiced on scenic back roads. Soon enough, I was driving through town and cruising on freeways. The longest distance I’ve ever driven was from Yakima to The Dalles during a family trip to Oregon.

While I felt a tiny thrill, I also felt I was in danger all the time. What if I was pulled over by a police officer for speeding? What if I got involved in a collision? I had many “what ifs” constantly running through my mind.

En route to The Dalles in a 1997 Ford Taurus, I was driving down a steep slope with a semi-truck behind me. I have to admit, I’m afraid of trucks. Anyway, after going down the hill, I approached a work zone where I had to slow down. The truck was so close behind my car; I actually felt it was tailgating me. I couldn’t pull off on the shoulder and let the truck pass. I couldn’t zoom out of the work zone and get myself into another sticky situation. After all, fines for speeding double in work zones here in Washington. Panicking was absolutely not an option! All I could do was drive safely and apply the skills I learned.

My parents helped me through thick and thin on the road. They decided that driver’s training in the summer was well worth the money. As much as they dread being passengers of an inexperienced driver, my parents are just as happy that I’ve achieved something.

However, just because I have a driver’s ed certificate (meaning I’ve completed my driver’s training course) and a learner’s permit, work is yet to be done. I’m halfway through my required 50 hours of driving; this is the minimum amount of driver’s experience required to take the driver’s test and receive a driver’s license. Taking the test and obtaining a license are two things I hope to do next summer.

But first things first. I have to turn 16 and make sure I drive safely enough to do so!

• Ciara Hansen is a sophomore at Naches Valley High School and a member of Yakima Herald-Republic’s Unleashed journalism program for high school students.