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INSIDE THE ISSUES: Should kids drive latest car?

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Would you allow your child to drive a car?

I’m not talking about your teenager who is working on his learner’s permit so he can experience the thrill of the wind in his hair as he cruises the suburbs with his window down, desperately trying to rid the interior of that sweet reefer aroma.

Toyota has created a new electric car just for the young’uns. The Japanese company debuted the environmentally correct Camatte on June 15 at the International Tokyo Toy Show in Tokyo.

Powered by a lead-acid battery and a small electric motor, the Camatte is every bit as boxy as today’s grown-up car styles. It is 106 inches long, 51 inches wide and 47 inches high.

So, although it's only marginally bigger than the teeny, weeny Smart car, it’s not street-legal.

Since it can go only about 25 miles per hour, parents need not worry about any impromptu shopping trips to Nashville.

However, the vision of a child driving a non-street-legal motor vehicle at 25 miles per hour in a parking lot full of cars insured by adults who probably know how to contact a lawyer is the prelude to a nervous breakdown.

Here’s the reassuring news: The Camatte enables parents to be back-seat drivers – literally.

It’s equipped with braking and steering controls in the rear seating area. The catch is that the rear seat is located between the two front seats.

Therefore, any safety-conscious parent had better forego the supersized fries at the drive-thru restaurant.

OK, it’s green. But it’s cramped, slow and built to be driven by prepubescent neophytes, albeit with Mom and Dad’s assistance.

So what’s the point?

Toyota executives think that they can create Toyota traditions in Toyota families if they start with the kids.

With the Camatte, they are targeting affluent car buyers who have enough disposable income to spoil their little darlings with expensive toys at Beverly Hills-style birthday parties.

You know, the ones where the hired clown is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and puts on the funny nose and floppy shoes to earn money between auditions for two-line roles in low-budget movies?

In other words, it’s a concept car.

Theoretically, if the kids want to drive it at the park or on a track designed for kiddie karts, maybe it has some recreational value to those who can afford it.

And here’s another kid-friendly touch. If your little one doesn’t particularly care for the color you choose, she can switch the body panels to alter the car’s color and style.

But jokes about Tinkertoys aside, Toyota’s bigwigs apparently are quite serious about grooming the next generation to gravitate to their brand. And they don’t want your children to wait until they are old enough to see over the steering wheel of whatever you drive.

What do you think?

Should a child get a head start on learning what a car is all about by driving his very own parent-supervised vehicle? Or should he wait for adolescence to learn how to drive, insure and take care of the real thing?

By the  way, “Camatte” is an offshoot of the Japanese word “kamau,” which means “to care for.”

Read more from:
Gina Logue, Parenting, Voices
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