Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, December 09, 2006

How to Manage the Risks of your Teen's Driving

By 9:12 AM

Are your kids driving yet? If so, then you are rightly worried for their safety. Teens are especially prone to the mistakes that cause traffic accidents, as any expert will explain and every traffic cop testify. Three of my four kids are now driving and the fourth will be old enough in less than a year from the time of this writing, so when it comes to anxiety, I know whereof I speak. My wife and I both participated in teaching them how to drive, and one of the things we did was let them in on six of the most common mistakes people, especially teens, make that cause accidents. Just a bit of research provides us with the information. So here they are, available should you feel the need to imprint them on your teens' brains with a branding iron.

1. Distracted Drivers

Our kids need to understand, deep in their psyches, that driving is a very serious business, simply because the mass and velocity of their vehicle makes it an exceedingly hazardous object. They should be aware that they can easily, with no effort at all, injure or kill several people, including themselves, in no more than an instant. What does this knowledge mean for them? They have to pay attention to what they are doing and what's going on around them at all times. A moment's loss of attention on driving can have terrible consequences. What can steal a teen's attention away from their driving? Other passengers. With a car full of other teens, laughing and horsing around, it's very difficult to focus on driving. Adjusting the radio or CD player. Taking their eyes off the road for a split second is all it takes to get into an accident. Eating and drinking. With one or even both hands off the steering wheel can prevent a driver from maintaining control in a tricky situation. Daydreaming. Falling asleep. Reading (maps or anything else). Talking on the phone.

If a teen really gets that people's lives are in their hands every minute they spend behind the wheel, they might be more inclined to avoid distractions. If they must, it's better to pull over in a safe spot rather than trying to do it while driving.

2. Speeding

Here's where we need to be good examples to our kids so they won't blow us off when we pass on this one. Stick to the speed limit. According to, "Speeding is a multi-tiered threat because not only does it reduce the amount of time necessary to avoid a crash, it also increases the risk of crashing and makes the crash more severe if it does occur." Of course we need to be aware of the speed limit in order to stay within it, so we're back to "pay attention."

3. Aggressive Driving

People who have problems with anger and frustration tend to do this, and cause wrecks because of it. Tailgating, running red lights, switching lanes again and again to beat the flow of traffic, are all dangerous, not to mention obnoxious.

4. Bad Weather

Most people don't understand how much more dangerous the roads become in bad weather. A common refrain from people who cause a wreck in bad weather is that they were going the speed limit (which they probably weren't). But going the speed limit in bad weather is breaking the law. The standard becomes what's safe for the conditions, not what's posted. I once drove right through a stop sign in pouring rain because I didn't see the sign until I was in the middle of the intersection. There was a cop right there at the other stop sign. I was so sure I was going to be ticketed I pulled over before the cop did anything. Turns out it was so rainy he didn't see me! I was more than lucky that time.

5. Being Intoxicated

Almost everyone who gets into trouble by driving drunk, when asked how much they had had to drink, says, "Two beers." Never three, never one. Always two. I have no idea why that's so, unless it's because they know that one would be too few to be believable, and three would be too many to drive. So two is just right. They swear that, yes, they had had a "couple of beers," but they weren't drunk. The problem is, alcohol impairs us, period.

* I'll throw in one more thing. Teach your kids never to assume. "I thought they saw me." "I thought no one was coming." "I had the green light!" "I thought they had already turned, so I went." Always anticipate bad driving on the part of others. And always look.

Well, I hope you find this list helpful, and if your kids are driving, share it with them. It just might make a difference.