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The Globe and Mail

7-year-old takes Dad's Honda for a spin

The Globe and Mail, by Les Perreaux, August 3, 2009

If it were not for the seven-year-old boy at the wheel, the video would be an unremarkable vacation shoot of a young family rolling down a forest road on Quebec's North Shore.

Instead of a happy memento of summer, the YouTube clip is now evidence in a provincial police investigation.

It's unknown how the joyride ended, but the video posted on the weekend of young Samuel driving his parents and two siblings at speeds up to 70 kilometres per hour left many Quebeckers cringing yesterday.

As Dad runs the camera, the video posted on Friday shows the boy perched on the edge of the driver's seat of the Honda CRV so he can reach the pedals.

The boy's hands clutch the steering wheel in a white-knuckle grip and he rapidly jaws down on his gum. The rhythmic swipe of windshield wipers interrupts his view, suggesting the dirt road was probably wet.

His worried-but-unbuckled mother, sitting in the back seat with a toddler in her lap, yells that the boy is driving too close to the shoulder.

"You can see the temperament of his mother," clucks the narrator father. "She's a real mother hen."

The man boasts he is unconcerned and distracts his son with reminders of how much he loves him and how proud he is of him.

"I'm not even watching what he's doing, I have such confidence, hey my boy?" the father says. "Smile for the camera."

About an hour after the video became an Internet sensation yesterday, the user who posted it removed it from YouTube. But the video was up long enough for provincial police to open an investigation and for Quebec's road safety experts to offer admonitions.

"Maybe [the dad] learned his lesson," said Jean-Marie De Koninck, head of a provincial roundtable on road safety.

Failure to wear seatbelts, allowing a person to drive without a permit and dangerous driving are among the possible charges for the parents, a provincial police spokeswoman said.

Police did not say how they would locate the parents, but the video clearly shows the faces of the mother and children.

The video is one of several recent incidents involving children at the wheel, but usually the parents are caught off guard by their errant children drivers.

Last week, millions of viewers around the world watched a police video of an eight-year-old boy stealing his parents' Dodge Intrepid and making a run for it. The boy was ducking out of church in Plain City, Utah.

Other incidents involved a three-year-old in Ohio who somehow slipped his parents' vehicle into gear and ran into a parked car, and a 12-year-old who took her grandfather's car for a joy ride on a military base in Tennessee.

No one was hurt in the incidents.

Mr. De Koninck said the Quebec video shows how bad parent drivers create bad children drivers. The three children in the vehicle were all learning the worst possible lessons, he said.

"Let's just say for a moment that the father was trying to teach his son how to drive. You'd think the first thing he'd say is, 'Buckle up,'" he said.

"The father is teaching his bad habits and sending the message that a driving a car is just fun and a vehicle is just like a toy."

Hundreds of comments on YouTube and other sites were heartening to Audrey Chaput, a spokeswoman for the provincial auto insurance authority, which spends millions each year promoting road safety.

"If there's one positive element about it, you can see and hear how everyone is condemning it," she said. "At least it seems this is a pretty marginal kind of behaviour in our society."

Mr. De Koninck said videos of precocious children at the wheel seem to inspire copycats.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are very easily influenced, we underestimate that sometimes. They will see this video and decide to try it with their children," he said.