It truly saddens me to hear the terrible traffic news out of Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch. We’ve recently lost not one, but two bright, energetic young men to senseless acts of driving. My heart goes out to the families in their time of need.
Like everyone else, I was a young driver once. Reflecting on years past, I can’t believe I was awarded a license at 16. I made so many stupid mistakes on the road, it’s a miracle I’m alive (maybe you shouldn’t read this paragraph, Mom). I would drive too fast for conditions, I nearly flipped my truck several times, I took out a stop sign while misjudging a turn, I received three speeding tickets, I would ride somebody’s bumper without thinking twice, and change lanes on the freeway without checking all my mirrors — in short, I wasn’t fully prepared for the dangers of the road. And what usually amplified my bad driving were my passengers in tow. Somehow it felt like all the rules were discarded in order to impress my buddies in the back seat. Stupid, I know.
Needless to say, I’ve become a much more cautious and safer driver over the years. But isn’t giving a bright-eyed youngster the keys to the car akin to gambling, only with higher stakes?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “more than 4,200 teens in the United States aged 15 to 19 were killed and almost 400,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes” in 2007 alone. That’s 4,200 times that the same tragic events experienced recently in Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch were played out across the country.
Even more telling from the CDC is that “young people ages 15 to 24 represent only 14 percent of the U.S. population. However, they account for 30 percent, or $19 billion, of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28 percent, or $7 billion, of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females.”
As most parents of teenagers in California know, the state implemented a graduated driver license, or GDL, program in 1997. Basically, kids are forced to slowly prove themselves on the road under the watchful supervision of their parents and their driver education instructor. Neophyte drivers are also not allowed to transport passengers under age 20 for the first 12 months, and they especially cannot be out driving late at night.
Research suggests that GDL programs are working, as we’ve seen a 38 percent reduction in fatal and injury crashes among 16-year-old drivers. In my opinion, 38 percent just isn’t enough.
Driving is dangerous, but how do we convey this message to teenagers? They are already preprogrammed to disregard anything anybody over 21 has to tell them. The scare tactics aren’t too effective. Statistics mean nothing to most kids. So do we have to wait until tragedy strikes close to home to prove our point? Or maybe the state should readjust its GDL guidelines, making them even stricter than they already are. After all, human lives are at risk.
So what can we do? What comes to mind is that teens aren’t alone in this, as adults are also guilty of making horrible decisions on the road. Driving like an absolute idiot sends the wrong message to kids. My only bit of advice? Slow down. This isn’t a race.
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