"I was very happy about that," he said, adding that there was no practice in the parking lot for him. He took the wheel with his parents by his side; on their first trip, he drove from Salem to Raymond.
"At first, my mother was a little tense," the 18-year-old said. "But I did well."
New Hampshire is the only state that still allows young people to start driving without a learner's permit, but Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, has proposed changing the law to make teens wait until they turn 16, pass a written test and get a learner's permit before taking their parents out driving. In addition, the bill would raise the age to qualify for a youth driver's license from 16 to 17.
The bill, which is scheduled for a hearing today, also would add more hours of supervised driving with a parent - 40 hours above and beyond driver education class - before the teenager could qualify for a youth license, she said. Ten of those hours would have to be logged at night.
But the key piece is the learner's permit, Merrick said.
Parent Donna Dyer of Windham thinks Merrick has the right idea. Her twin daughters went out driving as soon as they turned 151/2, and could drive long before their friends who live in Massachusetts. They felt they were very lucky, she said. But Dyer thinks a little maturity and extra experience might make the passage to adulthood safer for everyone.
So do the experts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and AAA Northern New England all said car crashes are the leading cause of death for people 16 to 20.
According to the CDC's Web site, 16- to 19-year-old drivers are more likely to crash than any other age group, and four times more likely to have a crash for each mile they drive.
Those same experts said there is a proven way to reduce these accidents. It's called the graduated driver's license program.
New Hampshire does have a graduated driver licensing system, according to Pat Moody, a spokesman for AAA Northern New England. But it's inadequate, and the permit is one of the critical missing pieces, he said.
"We've got some very brave parents out there to get behind the wheel with a kid and just start driving," he said. "But the great thing about a permit is it gives the parents some information prior to starting the driving process."
Moody said the permit process would involve the parents by giving them tips about teaching driving and bringing them up to date with changes in the law they might have overlooked.
He's backing Merrick's bill - with some changes. For example, he wants teens to be able to get a license at 161/2, not 17. He also wants to see more milestones along the way to lifting restrictions on the license.
But Jack Grube, driving education coordinator at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, said driver education in New Hampshire is working as is.
"I don't see any shortcomings in the system right now," he said.
He did not want to comment on Merrick's bill because it's still not in final form. In theory, Grube said he could support a permit, but not if the teens have to wait until they're 16. He said the single most important thing in teaching driving is increased time with a parent, so there's no advantage in cutting out six months when the teens could be practicing.
He does support another bill, sponsored by Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, which would increase the hours of supervised driving time the teenagers must log before they qualify for a youth license.
"A permit doesn't make a better driver," Grube said.
Teens also have their doubts about the effectiveness of a learner's permit.
"I don't know how you judge if someone's ready to drive by an essay or a written test," said Stephen Casazza, 15, a sophomore at Salem High. "I don't think it would work."
He has not started driving yet, but figures that teens could learn the rules of the road for the test and still forget them once they got in the car.
Richard DeSantis, 16, also a Salem High sophomore, agreed.
"A bad driver is a bad driver," he said.
DeSantis has started driving with his parents, but said he won't take the wheel with his mother in the car anymore. They only practiced in the parking lot, but she got too nervous.
"I'd be going about 5 mph," he said. "She starts screaming, 'Brake!'"