The call came in the wee hours of the morning, awakening us from a deep sleep. He was in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit fighting for his life. The boy, the 20-year-old child of close friends, was ejected from the car in the crash and thrown to the other side of the road. His two friends were killed on the spot.
I believe in teaching by example, and I remember many years ago having my young son wait for me at the nurse's station on the neurology floor of the hospital in which I worked while I checked on a few patients. Wanting to make sure he wore a helmet when he rode his bike, I pointed out the rooms in which lay trauma victims and impressed upon him what among other things could happen when one doesn't drive carefully. I thought for a brief moment that he got the message that day. A year later, at nine, he lost a close friend who was killed by a teenage driver. Nevertheless, to be honest, I am not sure that that any of these incidents have really had an impact on my children's driving.
How do we help our children become good drivers? The choices and decisions they make with respect to road safety will remain with them for the rest of their life. By nature, teenagers are risk takers and do not relate the potential risks to the consequences of their behavior on the road or otherwise. They believe that they are good drivers and we the adults are simply being overly critical. This, coupled with their feelings of invincibility, is a potential setup for disaster.
That said, we must continue to be good role models and search for ways to get into our children's psyche, as well as that of the drivers they face, when they take the keys and get on the road. Here are just a few suggestions that I offer to you and your child.
1) Be polite, considerate, and respectful of other drivers. Yield the right of way and never assume that just because it is "your turn" you can actually go. Assume that drivers will cut you off. If they disobey the rules of the road, be above it all. Be proud of your behavior and others will be proud of you.
2) Do not be humiliated by other drivers. They will toot their horn while the light is not yet green, pass you on the shoulder and double park, forcing you to hold up others or move dangerously into traffic in order to pass. Don't drive illegally just because they do. Drive at the speed limit or less if that is what makes you comfortable and drive defensively. Don't feel that a yellow light means to speed up or take a corner on two wheels. The consequences can be tragic.
3) Watch how others drive and learn what it means to be a good driver. They are hard to find. Sadly, many drivers do more than one thing while driving, thus endangering you and those who drive with you. They speak on their hand-held cellphones, often with their hands gesturing widely; they deal with children and pets who are not restrained in spite of the law; they eat, shave, put on makeup and they even look down to adjust the radio. All of these are dangerous distractions to them and to you.
4) Don't drink and drive and don't go into the car with any driver who does. Your parents will always drive you home or pay for transportation if you feel you cannot or should not drive.
5) Put on your signal to let others know you are going to turn. Be considerate and safe. Let the person behind you know where you are going as soon as you know. Remember, people tend to hug your bumper, so if you stop short, so might they. Give yourself some necessary space between yourself and the next car.
6) Don't be sucked in by peer pressure. Be strong and let your friends know that driving recklessly isn't cool at all. Your friends may be the death of you - literally.
7) Don't fight with anyone on the road. It just isn't worth it. People will scream and yell and gesture and get out of their car. Sometimes they are angry even before they get into their car. If you are angry with anyone, think twice before you get behind the wheel. Remember, anger can kill. Your state of mind will affect your driving. Add some road rage and you have a potentially lethal scenario.
8) Be thankful when you ultimately make it safely to your destination. More than luck and good driving allowed you to get where you needed to go this time.
Our friend's son was in a coma for eight days. He never woke up and died last month leaving behind family and friends who will forever mourn his loss.
It is his loss that has reminded me once again that if you don't like your child's driving, take away the keys until you do. Otherwise, the next child could unfortunately be someone you too might know.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. firstname.lastname@example.org