We all felt invincible at that age, but every youth needs to know that their safety starts and ends with the driver – period
Originally published April 10, 2017
You’ve no doubt prepped your family for an emergency exit from your home in the event of fire. You’ve taught your kids to run away from strangers trying to give them a ride, you’ve taught your teens to call you if their ride gets impaired and they can’t get home.
I want to you do one more thing: Give them the tools to get out of a car when the one behind the wheel is driving over his or her head.
As the weather warms up, you can feel the freedom in the air. Summer teases in some days, even ahead of spring. Exam schedules loom but so does that intangible sense of possibility, not reserved for the young but surely more embraced by them. The next phase of growing up, that leaving behind of one grade for another or a new start, becomes more fraught when young drivers test their early skills with unknown territory.
There will be a headline in the coming weeks, somewhere in this country, maybe even in your community. There have been too many in the past and each one weighs heavy, stubbornly refusing to fade like so many others. A car full of young people will be out celebrating that end of school, that beginning of so much, embracing the emotion of being young and the freedom of exploring. And somewhere, something will go wrong and in the tangle of metal that is left, there will be tremendous loss. It will be because of speed, it might be because of impairment, but there will always be so many innocents affected it serves nobody to peg the blame, because it could have been any of them.
It could have been any of us.
So what can we do – as parents, as people who love these kids? I shudder when I think of the many times I must have had an angel on my shoulder as we careened around the backroads, seatbelts of dubious vintage as often off as on. Sometimes the lads had travellers, a beer in the cupholder I wouldn’t have sipped from but neither would I have said a word about. These were my friends and I didn’t want to look any younger than I was, didn’t want to be uncool. Yes, I was taught better, and I knew better, but there was that freedom and that bulletproof certainty that as long as I made it home by curfew, my world would be fine.
It’s what every kid thinks. They think we don’t know, because who admits to their children the dumb, dangerous things they used to do? Instead, I think of the friends I lost who were doing the same things I was, except I survived and they did not. And the lesson I passed to my own sons was the nature of dumb luck, instead of the long shadow of blaming someone whose luck ran out.
New cars are marvels of safety and technology, but every nanny system in the world can be overridden by a driver long on confidence and short on experience. Don’t rely on your car to be taking care of your kid, because every car starts and ends with the driver. Period.
We’ve all been in that place. The driver shouldn’t be driving. The driver is taking chances they shouldn’t. As adults, we usually have the experience and foresight to not go along in the first place, or the strength to say something. Many adolescents haven’t developed that yet – that ability to stand up to their peers and be that person who wants to grind the fun to a halt. But I think of those headlines, and I know we haven’t successfully parented until we’ve taught them how to get out of every dangerous situation and do so in a way that preserves their sense of social standing.
They don’t want to look stupid in front of their friends. Neither did I. Neither did you.
Talk to your teen about the skill level of those they drive with. They’re right to not feel safe if the driver is texting or speeding or drinking or high. They’re right to recognize – and feel unsafe – when the driver is driving above their skill set, or when the car is overpowering their experience. And your kid needs to know how to stay safe.