Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scare them with hard facts

Note: I know how totally lame I've been about blogging, and I apologize. I wish I could figure out how to post every day, or at least a few times a week. Thank you for the notes and expressions of concern. All is well. I have too much on my plate and I've just been too busy to write. I hope to get back into the groove soon. Meanwhile, here's my column from this week's Suffolk Times and News-Review.
All the best- Denise

"Scare them with hard facts"

It's every parent's nightmare.

An inexperienced kid behind the wheel, perhaps driving too fast. Maybe there's alcohol involved, but maybe not. The lack of experience, the other kids in the car, music blasting, friends laughing. Kidding around.

In an instant, everything changes.

Screeching tires, the sound of metal being crushed against a fence, glass shattering, and the laughter turns to screams. Or silence. Dead silence.

Hardly a week passes at the newspaper when our fax machine doesn't spit out a press release from the county police department announcing the premature and violent death in a car crash of one or more people between the ages of 14 and 22.

As the mother of two teenage girls, I take a special interest in these notices.

On Saturday morning, I found a press release from Southold Town police in my e-mail in-box, advising that five teenagers were involved in what sounded like a very serious car accident on Route 25 in East Marion. Four of them were ejected from the car, a Toyota convertible, which flipped after swerving and leaving the roadway. The driver was a 17-year-old. Her passengers ranged in age from 13 (her younger sister) to 16. One child was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, the press release said. That's never a good sign.

I was still at the computer when my soon-to-be-16-year-old woke up. "Look at this," I told her, opening the police e-mail message -- hoping friends of hers weren't involved in the incident.

This hit very close to home. All week, she'd been lobbying to go out with her new boyfriend, who'd just turned 17 and was the brand-new holder of a New York State driver's license.

"No," I said.

"You're so overprotective."


"He's very responsible."

"I know, but still no. Sorry."

"Sooner or later, you've got to let go."

She's right. I will. I know. Maybe I am overprotective and maybe he is the most responsible 17-year-old boy in the world.

But this is my baby we're talking about here. And I'm just not ready for this.

Enough with the emotion, though. How about some facts and stats?

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S., accounting for 36 percent of all deaths in this age group, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. Teens 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.

The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers; the risk increases with the number of teen passengers.

Crash risk is particularly high during the first year that teenagers are eligible to drive.

Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate hazardous situations or dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations.

Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and tailgate.

Among male drivers between 15 and 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2005, 38 percent were speeding at the time of the crash and 24 percent had been drinking.

Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use.

In 2005, 23 percent of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (the legal limit in New York) or higher.

In 2005, half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 54 percent occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

Teen drivers are much more willing to use cell phones, text messaging and PDAs while driving.

Text messaging while driving. As if making or receiving cell phone calls weren't bad enough!

It's a miracle those five North Fork teens weren't killed or more seriously injured. Thank God. They got a tough but no doubt long-lasting lesson about driving, risk-taking and the fragility of life this weekend.

How do you and I, people who've been around the block a few times, share this lesson with other youngsters? One EMT, a 10-year veteran of the emergency service corps who responded to the scene of the horrific crash Friday night, said she gives her kids "a scared straight lesson every day."

If you, like me, have teenage children, what have you done to scare your kids straight today? If you're like me, you probably haven't done enough. Worrying is not enough. Plain talk about risks and statistics -- early and often -- is the minimum we must do. Forcing them to read this column is probably a good place to start.

For more information, go to the state Department of Motor Vehicles Web site about teen drivers:


ceil said...

Hi Denise...need some tums? A full plate always causes indigestion...
Welcome back...I've missed you.

Ah, kids and cars it's a story as old as time. Maybe they had the town- crier report horse and buggy accidents caused by 14 year olds drinking moon-shine and having buggy drag races..

All kidding aside, a very serious issue, I'm with you. I was terrified when my sons got their drivers license. But, eventually they took the family car ( that's when insomnia kicked in.)

I did educate my kids as best I could at the time. There was no Internet, but what we did was take them to the junk yard or police stations to feast their eye-balls on the consequence of speeding, drinking generally reckless behavior.

For the record they turned out fine.

Letting kids go, and grow is a difficult challenge.

Patti said...

I don't want to scare you back, but I always tried to scare my kids about safe driving. Every accident that was in the paper I showed them the car and told them what happened to the kids inside. Seatbelts, seatbelts, seatbelts were always the rule. When in the car, I pointed out other driving mistakes, running red lights, not looking when starting at a green light, passing on the left over a double yellow line in a school zone, always lessons. "drive as if I was sitting in the passenger seat" I told them after they got their licenses. Both of them took driver's ed in school and heard the same things from someone else. No radio, no cell phone while driving. "drive carefully, I love you" were the last words they heard from me when they left the house. You may recognize my last name, my son Ryan was killed in a car accident on the way to school last year, no speeding,no cell phone (I checked)no drinking involved. We will never know know what actually happened, I guess he probably did something stupid (who hasn't in a car) and got caught, but it certainly wasn't lack of teaching or "scare tactics" Patti Hautsch

Brad Berthold said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brad Berthold said...

Right on, Denise! It's tough to see your kids (or anyone else, really) venture out on today's roads, especially for the first time.

I was a "summer kid" all my life in Riverhead. Raised in Queens, where nobody drove until they were 18, since junior licenses available at 16 weren't good inside NYC limits,I sometimes envied Riverhead friends who drove at the younger age.

But,what struck us City kids hard then was the number of traffic deaths among younger drivers, seemingly accepted as a fact of life here,but totally foreign to us.

Riverhead was much more rural then. Northville Turnpike, one of the straight roads through the country, was often used for illegal drag races.

The Flanders Road (Route 24) was three lanes, with dotted lines allowing passing in either direction. Many fatalities resulted from cars going at high speed in opposite directions pulling out simultaneously into the middle lanes and colliding.That's been fixed now by alternate passing stripes.

The worst thing, aside from loss of life, was what we came to perceive as a ghastly Riverhead ritual:
A car full of kids would wreck.
Friends and curiosity seekers would drive out to the site of the accident. Then, to Gallo's junkyard to see the smashed vehicles, then, to the funerals.

I once accompanied some friends, one of whom was supposed to be riding in the death vehicle, out to an accident site on Flanders Road. The car had struck a tree. Several square feet of bark was peeled off. The trunk had little pink pieces of flesh embedded in the still damp wood, starkly visible.

A shoe was lying outside the car, whose speedometer was stuck at 120 mph. A pair of sunglasses was on the seat, picked up by an onlooker who pocketed them and mentioned his good fortune at the find, to my shock and horror.

We'd already heard the story. One boy had been decapitated. One, a survivor of two previous fatal accidents, was ejected from the car (no seat belts in those days). The hot muffler landed on his back, scarring him terribly.

I felt a little what the cops and EMTs must feel, without the hardening they develop from repetitive exposure. That scene stays in my mind to this day,some 45 years later.

My brother's sons are new drivers. I don't know what they do in driver ed now, but I hope it has more effect than it apparently did in Riverhead in my youth.

Stay vigilant!