Chapter 2: Driving
Well, today you turn 16. And of course everyone is asking you when you are going to get your learner’s permit, and your license. You’ve already driven around a couple parking lots – big stupid circles – just to get the feel for how a car works. And you’ll need a ton more practice with that of course, but you also have to get a feel for how the whole concept of driving works – not just the mechanics, but all of it.
There are some mantras I often spurt out – and you’ve heard them – about driving:
- a car is a weapon, use it wisely
- you’re not the only one with the weapon
- people are stupid (this does not only apply to driving)
- if someone can do something so imaginatively stupid and dangerous, they will – expect them to do exactly what they should NOT do (again – not only about driving)
- you can call me any time, any day, regardless of the situation, and I will come get you or send someone to you.
So let’s talk about these things a bit.
Most cars weigh between 2500 lbs (like a camry or something) and 5000 lbs (a van or large SUV). And get this: a loaded tractor trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds (or more with a special permit). That’s fucking heavy. Cars and trucks are made out of metal and glass and are filled with gasoline. Car accidents are the LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH FOR TEENAGERS IN THE UNITED STATES – killing on average 5,000 kids (aged 1 to 20) a year.
That, and the following statistics are from the Center for Disease Control:
- Among male drivers between 15 and 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2005, 37% were speeding at the time of the crash and 26% had been drinking.
- The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers.
- In 2009, about 3,000 teens in the United States aged 15–19 were killed and more than 350,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes.
There are approximately 21 million teenagers between 15 and 19 years old in the US. So, some simple math will tell you that based on these statistics, (350k out of 21million) 1 out of every 62 kids will be sent to the hospital due to a motor vehicle accident. You have 500 facebook friends – 8 of them are going the the emergency room – and possibly worse.
In more than half of the fatal accidents in the US, someone was speeding.
In more than half the fatal accidents in the US, someone was under the influence.
Scared yet? It’s a dangerous weapon and even when you THINK you have it under control – when a 2 ton piece of metal is hurling down the road at ANY speed – it only takes a split second for that control to be gone.
Keep all of this in mind every time you open the car door – as a driver or passenger. And of course, remember: people are stupid.
OK – enough scared with stats talk.
Some general rules to keep in mind:
1) don’t use the fucking phone. Not to call, not to answer a call, and not to text. Don’t check facebook while driving, don’t even READ a text while driving. Studies have shown that a drunk driver can stop a car 10 times faster than someone who is texting. To be honest – the best thing to do is to turn your phone off when you’re driving. Whoever needs to get ahold of you can leave a message – and when you get where you’re going (alive) you can turn on your phone and see what they wanted. Whatever it is that they had to say, can wait until you are parked safely. I promise. And yes – that means your mother and I as well. I have access to your phone records. If I see that you sent a text or used the phone when I know you were driving, you lose both the car and the phone for a very long time.
2) obviously, you already know – don’t drink and drive – or use drugs and drive. One drink is too many. Alcohol not only impairs your ability to drive and slows your reflexes, it also causes you to feel a bit invincible, and to make decisions you shouldn’t make. Go ahead – pick up ugly girls when you’re drunk – make stupid bets you can’t win – tell all your secrets to a stranger – get naked and run down the street – but do NOT get in a car. I promise that I will ALWAYS arrange for another way home – either me or a taxi if I’ve been drinking too – and there will be no trouble that comes from it for you or your friends. No questions asked. If you can prove to me that you made the one lifesaving important decision - you’re not going to get in trouble and I will go to bat fighting for your friends to their parents as well. That of course does not mean we won’t have a discussion the next day – but you will not be in trouble. I love you too much to even THINK about a policeman knocking on my door to say you’re in jail, in the hospital, or worse. Make the right decision – even if you are thinking you don’t need to.
3) #1 and #2 above also apply to being a passenger. Do NOT get in a car if YOU’VE been drinking. Period. Even if the person driving says “no – no – I’m fine!”. He’s not fine. He’s drunk. Call me. If they’re texting, get the phone away from them or get out of the car. Again – call me anytime and I’ll get you home. Your friends will think you’re a fucking moron for not letting them text – but you’ll be an alive moron.
4) Speed kills. Duh. Never do more than 10% over the speed limit. I used to go 80 in a 65. I don’t anymore because I realized it’s only saving me a couple minutes per hour while adding risk. Who cares. Keep it at the speed limit or a little above – and even slower if you have to use your lights or your wipers. In other news – no cop worth his badge will pull you over for doing 10% over the limit – unless you’re drunk or using your phone.
5) Aggressive driving kills. Don’t get mad at people who do stupid shit. Expect it. They’re stupid. The best thing to do is to smile and drive away – even give a little “sorry” wave. Let them win. Who gives a shit? Curse under your breath when they’re gone – but just let them go away thinking they were right and you were wrong. No harm in that – really.
6) Don’t do stupid shit like bumping the bumper of your friend in front of you at a red light, “peeling out”, speeding, screeching to a halt to impress your buddies or any other show of “bravado”. Use your testosterone for sex – not for driving. It’s much more fun.
7) Never allow people to give up their right of way. You’ve seen me do this, and you’ve heard them get pissed and call me names – but the truth is that 10% of all accidents occur because of a “right of way” breech. I absolutely HATE it when some idiot who does NOT have a stop sign, stops to let me go thru my stop sign. The big problem is that no one ELSE knows he’s doing this – so they all continue to follow the rules of the road – and then BAM. I was a passenger in an accident due to this sort of thing when I was a teenager (17? 18?). We were the car that didn’t know that some idiot had forfeited his right of way to someone else – and we were lucky that only the cars were totaled. If someone is doing this, wave them on once – then don’t look at them again until they are driving past you – ignore their stupidity. And of course – don’t try to be the nice guy by forfeiting YOUR right of way. Follow the rules of the road and do what is expected of you – not what the stupid people want you to do.
8 ) if you’re driving, or a passenger in a car, and your curfew is 9pm, then you are LATE if you’re in the house after 8:59. If you are late, your curfew is then 8:30. If you meet the 8:30 curfew 10 times – you earn the 9pm curfew back. if you miss it – you’re rolled back to 8pm. If you roll it all the way back to 7pm – the keys are mine. There are no exceptions unless you get your lazy ass a job that requires it – and then the curfew will be based on the time you are leaving, and the distance home. I will not budge on this.
9) The number of miles (or number of times) per week you are allowed to drive will be directly related to your grades. Your last report card had an average of 92 – but that included Gym. Once you get your license – gym won’t count. Keep it at or above 90 and there will be very few limits. No, you’re not driving to school – at least not until you’re a senior.
10) It’s my car. Period. You will pay for gas, insurance, registration, and maintenance for the PRIVILEGE of using my car. You will follow all rules so that you can continue to have this privilege. I will take the car away from you at my discretion - BUT ONLY if you break a law, or the rules involving the car or driving.
11) as always – throw me under the bus. You know the deal. If you hesitate to tell your friends “no” about something – drinking, racing, texting, whatever stupid thing they want you to do – do not hesitate to say “dude – my fucking father is a total asshole if I break the rules and somehow he ALWAYS knows what I did. There’s no fucking way I’m doing this because i don’t want to deal with him and his stupid shit. Trust me – it’s not worth the hassle to me – and yes – I will get caught. He’ll give us a ride no questions asked though. I have it in writing.”
I love you.
I want you alive.
Please have patience with your mother and I as we go thru this. It’s an exciting time for you. But for us all we can think of is that we will become parents of a statistic. It’s our worst nightmare.
If you are reading this and not my son – please feel free to give us all other ideas – especially if you’ve already been thru this nightmare with your own kids.