THE STATISTICS are sobering: Not only are teen drivers more likely to be charged with speeding and reckless driving violations than other drivers are, but they account for more than their share of deaths related to motor vehicles.
Driver inexperience is one major cause, a fact not lost on Barbie Schluth of Ellicott City, parent of a 16-year-old on the verge of receiving her driver's license.
"Because of her inexperience, I fear she won't react quickly enough to other drivers' actions," Schluth says. "I tell my daughter she needs to have eyes in the back of her head. You can never predict what another driver will do."
The rules Schluth has set for her daughter include not allowing the radio to be on and not allowing friends to be passengers in the car. "Talking to friends while driving is too much of a distraction," she says.
Schluth recommends that new drivers prepare for trips. If they're going to have the radio on, she suggests, set it before the car is moving.
"We wondered why it always took my niece so long to get going after she got in the car," Schluth says. "She told us she always prepared the CDs she wanted to listen to before starting the engine. That was such a good idea."
A reader who lives in southern Howard County and wishes to protect his sons' privacy recounts his family's experiences. His two sons, then ages 17 and 15, were involved in an auto accident where they ran the family car into soda machines in front of a local supermarket.
"My youngest son gave in to his older brother's promptings to take the wheel," this reader recalls. "In a matter of 10 seconds, he hit the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and crashed the car into the soda machines."
Fortunately, the family was insured for the damage to the soda machines, and no one was injured. But the reader adds, "One of our sons will not be driving until he is 18 due to the cost of insurance, but he has learned a valuable lesson about life and about being held accountable for one's actions."
This family took a wise and comprehensive approach to ensure that the lesson would sink in. The morning after the accident, this reader took his sons to the supermarket, instructing them to apologize to the store manager and to apply for employment. The 17-year-old was offered and accepted a bagger position three days after the accident; he is still working at the store. The boys shared the $1,200 cost of repairing the front end of the car.
The lesson also included trips to the junkyard. "When I went to find replacement parts, my younger son accompanied me to the parts store and to the junkyard," the reader says. "It was shocking to him to walk through the junkyard and see the gruesome wrecks. The junkyard tour not only got us the parts at low cost but also gave me a bully pulpit to show him close up the interiors of cars in which people had been injured.
"Also, in that first week, I took both sons to visit my insurance agent, who cited what kinds of lawsuits can result from teen-age indiscretions behind the wheel. Our insurance company is very conservative and has a youth safe-driving contract of 13 line items that our older son had signed when he turned 17 - just two months before the accident. The agent took my older son through each line item to drive home the impact of the contract."
He also remembers that he and his wife wondered how this could have happened. "My wife and I were both outraged that our sons could have gotten into such a situation. We never expected to have to go through such an ordeal. We raised these kids, churched them, coached them in sports, kept their free time structured, and basically have done our level best to keep a lid on their behavior, friendships and formation as children, adolescents and adults," he says.
"To us, the moral of this story is that teen-agers feel they are immortal, have no real life experience behind the wheel, and are subjected daily to peer pressure to do really stupid things with an automobile."
What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison @us.net. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or fax 410-715-2816.