By Frank Canna
For teens, learning how to drive is not easy. Sure, most teens can figure out how to load their MP3 player, send text messages and accomplish a host of other high tech stuff, but when it comes learning how to become a safe driver, that’s a challenge.
Of course, just about any teen driver can get in a car, turn the key and think they know the basics. What they don’t know is how they would react to a situation when they have no previous knowledge and no previous experience out on the highway. When you consider that more than 5,000 teens are killed out on the roads each year and more than 350,000 will become seriously injured, it starts to become clear that we must all do something to help our young, inexperienced teen drivers.
I recently drove past my old high school where I had graduated from a number of decades ago. It got me to thinking about the first time I got behind the wheel as a teenager. You see, unlike many teen drivers, I had somewhat of an advantage back in the day. What I had was a Dad who was determined to make sure I learned what he thought I needed to know about safely operating a motor vehicle. I use the term motor vehicle because my Dad was in his own business and he had a variety of different types of service vehicles that I would soon be driving. One such vehicle was a 2,000 gallon fuel oil delivery truck.
Try imagining a young inexperienced teenager behind the wheel of an oil truck with over 8 tons of weight tooling down the highway. To most teens, that would be a problem. It makes me stop and think about the time my Dad and I were out making a delivery in that truck and someone in front of us decided to stop for a green light. Yes, to anyone, especially a teen driver, someone stopping for a green light was a completely unexpected surprise. I can still remember the look on my Dad’s face after I brought that truck to a safe stop behind that car. Although I had been following at what we both would have considered a safe following distance, it was just one of those unexpected situations that come out of nowhere that day. One thing’s for sure, that experience taught me the classic example of why it’s so important to leave plenty of space between your own car and the car in front of you.
Like many parents, my Dad knew he was handing over a good deal of responsibility to me and he also realized that it was going to be those kinds of early driving situations that would begin to shape me into the kind of driver I was going to become. As I think back, he definitely had confidence in his ability to share his knowledge and experience of how to stay safe out on the highway.
How can we help young drivers become safe teen drivers? It’s all about attitude. For many teens, driving a car seems just as natural as riding a bicycle. Of course, teens need to learn the basics of maintaining control under all types of driving situations. And much has been done through driver education and graduated drivers licensing programs. Do these programs really work? Some may think so. However, many times it’s not a lack of ability that faces these young drivers as much as it is a lack of understanding of their own mental beliefs, feelings, values and disposition to act a certain way in certain situations. Yes, it’s my feeling that teen driver safety all comes down to attitude when a young driver gets behind the wheel. How they’re going to react in certain situations is much more important than the time spent teaching driver education. We’ve all been there and we’ve all witnessed it for ourselves out on the road. Call it road rage, aggressive driving, whatever you like, at the center of it all is our attitude and how we’re going to respond to the careless actions of other drivers.
As parents, friends and families of teen drivers, we need to work together and focus in on this delicate subject of attitude. We need to take the time to talk about and explain the values of patience, tolerance and the use of good judgment out on the roadway. Teen drivers need to understand and clearly see the importance of taking defensive action, rather than constantly reacting to the personalities of other drivers. Like my Dad, each and every one of us needs to take action and use every opportunity we have to share our own driving knowledge and experience to help shape our young drivers into safe teen drivers.
But wait, there’s more we can do. We need to make sure our teen drivers and passengers are wearing their seat belts. Why? Simply because statistics clearly show that more than one half of the 5,000 teens that die each year in motor vehicle crashes were actually unrestrained at the time of the fatal crash. Yes, it’s hard to imagine that such a large number of teens die because they simply weren’t buckled up. Unlike those fancy slogans, wearing your seat beat is not about Click It or Ticket. It’s simply a matter of saving lives.
Frank Canna has been in the detailing business for more than 20 years and is the owner of Mirror Finish Detailing, Williamstown, NJ.