Ditch the distractions, or end up in the ditch

It’s easy to follow studies, some decades old, which report a disproportionate number of teenagers and young adults who die or are injured behind the wheel. This age group, especially the males, pay exorbitant insurance costs because insurance companies use those studies to set their rates.

Why? Why aren’t we, parents and teachers and regulators, able to get the message across? Maybe because the only way they’d see it is if we texted it, and even then, would they care?

Teens are rarely long range planners. At all. They live for the weekend. It’s the same reason most of them spend their paycheques and run up credit cards when they get the chance. Tomorrow is so far away. At 17, I wasn’t wondering what my insurance rates would be when I was 28. I was wondering if that guy would ask me out, or if I could get an extension on that essay.

Most of them have little firsthand experience with death, close up. Grandparents, maybe, but that’s why it always rocks them hard when one of their own gets killed. It seems every spring you read of a carful of kids getting killed. The air starts getting warmer, the school year is winding down, they’re playing music, and the speed kicks in. These are not bad kids. Searching for a reason why it couldn’t have been your son or daughter is pointless, because it could have been. Teens in cars aren’t holding each other hostage; any one of them could have been driving, and they don’t drive with the intent to kill themselves.

I’ve watched my own two learn to drive. Teens who are driving their parents’ cars often don’t realize how expensive it is to fix even dings and dents. Ontario’s introduction in May 2010 of zero blood alcohol level until age 21 has had the most profound impact on teen drivers that I have ever seen – zero is zero, so they never even risk it. Handheld device laws don’t have the same teeth, and don’t get the same respect.

As crashes caused by driver distraction continue to escalate, you have to wonder: if you wouldn’t let your teen get behind the wheel holding a beer, why would you let them get in holding a phone? And what are they seeing you do?

It would be nice if parents used consequences that were as dire as licence suspensions and high fines. Instead, I’ve seen parents pay to fight their kids’ speeding tickets for them. They do it keep their insurance rates in line, but the message is totally wrong. It’s almost as if the only lesson that will get through to their undeveloped brains is injury or death. All that technology in the car that is saving them is battling the technology that is distracting them more with each model year.

I think driving is the first real power many kids have. Unencumbered by a parent, that freedom alone is power. If the worst thing that has ever happened to you is that some teacher failed you, how can they imagine the enormity of dying in a crash? Insurance companies know that young males are not just more likely to be involved in a crash, they’re the most likely to be killed. It’s very all or nothing. My sons tell me after the fact the places they’ve long-boarded and I just close my eyes. But boats, jet skis, motorcycles – all of it. Risk strapped to a motor is deadly.

We’ve historically pointed the blame at young males, but we’re now seeing a tragic situation of the girls catching up. Girls are more likely to be on their phones – the social component of interconnectivity outpaces the boys.

I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s not just bad kids who drive over their heads. Even the most entry level vehicles are powerful under an inexperienced driver’s foot, and making the thousands of instant decisions that driving requires full and total devotion to the task at hand: driving.

Previous generations learned to do up seatbelts; the next ones accepted strict drinking and driving laws. This one has to ditch the distractions, or risk ending up in the ditch.

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One response to Ditch the distractions, or end up in the ditch

  1. Arthur Daley says:

    I bought a car with a standard transmission for my kids to drive.

    In my estimation it makes them better drivers as it forces them to look/plan ahead, they can better experience the impact of physics on driving and they learn better how a car responds and ‘feels’. Also it is darned hard to text while shifting.

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