Demand they drive better

“Since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, about 2,600 American troops have been killed in combat and war related incidents. During the same period, more than 22,000 teenagers, ages 15 to 19, have died in traffic accidents on U.S. roads.”

That was the lead copy in a Sept. 4, 2006 issue of AutoWeek Magazine that got my attention. This article was filled with thought-provoking comments such as this. “We just accept the fact that somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 kids will die on our roads this year and another 300,000 will be seriously injured. And it’s just not acceptable,” say Ron Langford, who created the Masterdrive driver education program in Colorado after the death of his own 16-year-old daughter in a traffic accident.

This article and one by The AAA are must-reads and I will tell you how to find them in their entirety at the end of this column.

The article certainly points out the failure of many current driver education programs now taught in school, but more importantly how we as parents have failed to take responsibility for teaching our kids how to drive. Or perhaps even teaching them how not to drive by our example. The following is text taken from the article which really hit home: “No parent would pay for only six piano lessons and then expect a child to perform at a concert. And no parent would send a child to six swimming lessons then demand a championship athletic performance. So why is it, when it counts the most – when it becomes a matter of life and death – that so many parents shrink from their responsibility to instruct, supervise, and protect their children?”

It goes on to point out that traditional high school driver education simply does not work. “It doesn’t teach driving, let alone good driving. Its goal is to get them driver’s licenses and to teach them good citizenship as defined by driver education. It’s not about mastering a new skill, but about adopting a defensive posture. It’s pretty much up to the student to learn to drive by himself while the teacher holds his hand.”

My comments here are not to put the blame on driver’s ed, but to stress how necessary it is for us as parents to become involved. In a September article in the AAA membership publication Cars & Travel, they also highlight this subject. “Driving represents the single most dangerous activity your child will undertake, period. Traffic crashes kill more teenagers every year than guns, drugs, AIDS and suicide combined.” In their tips to readers, the article suggests to parents that they set a regular time to practice and to stick to it. “Your child probably has set aside a regular time to practice a musical instrument, finish homework, and do chores. Why should driving practice take a backseat?”

Of course after we teach and show our children how ABS brakes work (assuming we even understand that ourselves), have given them plenty of practice time in snow & ice, and have even taught them proper tire inspection and maintenance, we need to discuss the major issue in teen fatalities – that they feel invincible. In the area where I grew up, we had a race track right within view of our high school. In part because of this, most of us grew up with a racing mentality. Even as little boys, our toys were race cars, and our bikes had numbers on them. Each week we had our own bike races, and when the “Hell Drivers” came to town during County Fair week, we were in the school parking lot with our hand-built ramps doing our versions of the jumps we had just seen. And not always successfully, as my still deformed nose reminds me. Yes, we were invincible. And ... at the split second we turned 16, we were behind the wheel and ready to take on all comers. Many of us, including yours truly, were stupid and so full of ourselves; we pushed very inferior cars, by today’s standards, to their limits and beyond. And each time after two of our buddies got killed in car accidents, we never even felt for a moment that it would happen to us.

Today I still know the drill. Just watching our young men leaving the school parking lot after football practice or after an event reminds me that so little has change since I was 16. Kids will eat a meal or talk on their cells while they speed and pass on double solid lines. They think it’s cool because that’s what we thought. I went to a small rural school and because of its size, classmates always remained close, with reunions every five years. It was probably at our third reunion while sitting around after the evening’s events just talking about our high school days when I heard a very important comment, one that I should have heard 15 years earlier. In high school I thought I was pretty cool with the way I drove and certainly had established a type of reputation. That night 15 years later, one of my female classmates brought up my driving and the word “cool” was never mentioned. Words like “immature” and “scary” came out. And I think another of the girls added “ridiculous” or words of a similar tone. I thought cool, they thought stupid, and they were the ones I was trying to impress. So this brings me to this thought to pass along to your daughters.

Girls, you probably have more control over the way boys drive than we as parents may ever have. If you’re in a car and the driver is driving too fast or being too distracted, tell them to stop what they are doing or demand to get out. Trust me, your parents will be thrilled to pick you up. If your boyfriend thinks it’s cool to put your life in danger when you’re in the car, then dump him. If he cares so little about your life now, it’s doubtful that he will put much value on it in the future. Take control. Demand they drive better. Tell them it just isn’t cool. In addition, even though this last part has been more directed towards the male performance, you also have to be aware of your performance behind the wheel. The cell phone, applying makeup, the food, the chatter, speeding, all of these have played a role in the deaths of many females on our highways. Cut down the distractions and keep your concentration on the road.

Since I first read the AutoWeek article at least four teenagers in the Syracuse area have been killed. Locally we have been more fortunate. Now the ball is in your court. I hope you will read these articles and completely understand the responsibility we have to keep our kids from killing themselves. Parents unite. If you see a kid you know driving recklessly, call their parents. Remind our kids we have eyes everywhere and if we hear they have been driving dangerously, they lose the privilege to drive. Take back control.

There is so much good information contained on these two sites. I urge you to download these articles and read them with your children. The AutoWeek article can be found at" target="_blank"> and the New York State AAA office has created a special web address just so you can read their article at" target="_blank">

Until the next time ...

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