READERS' DIGEST, December, 1982
HELP KEEP YOUR TEENAGE DRIVER ALIVE
By Fred Bell
Fewer than 8% of the licensed drivers in the United States are under 20 years old. Yet nearly 17% of all automobile accidents in 1980 involved a teenager behind the wheel! Most of these tragedies were caused by excessive speed and recklessness, or by drinking and drugs. But all too often careful and responsible teenage drivers are killed simply because they don't know the practical safety rules that years of driving experience teach. Here are some ways to demonstrate these lifesaving habits in a manner kids will remember:
1. A FRIEND NAMED ICKY
Perhaps the most profound of all safety problems involving teenagers is impatience: the frustration of being caught behind a slow-moving vehicle...anger at being cut off by another driver...the desperate need to be somewhere immediately. Emotions such as these can explode into lethal maneuvering. How does a parent counter such youthful excitability?
One father stuck to the dashboard of his daughter's car one of those fuzzy little animal-like creations with a magnetic bottom. He named it ICKY for Impatience Can Kill You.
"That little fella has kept me from doing a lot of stupid things on the road, mostly when I've been angry with another driver or busting to pass somebody at the wrong time,: the young woman said. "One look at ICKY, and I relax like magic."
2. AN EXCEPTION TO A RULE
A student driver is invariably taught not to ride his brakes. This is a good rule, but experienced drivers sometimes ride their brakes after passing through flooded areas or while driving through an extremely heavy rain. The objective is to heat the brake linings and dry them off. Wet brakes won't stop anything! Many fledgling drivers have learned that deadly fact an instant too late.
This critical lesson can be demonstrated by taking your teenager for a ride during a downpour and doing the following:
While maintaining speed with your right foot on the accelerator, ride the brake lightly with your left foot for a tenth of a mile or so pressing on the brakes just hard enough to feel them barely take hold. Then press a touch more firmly, explaining that you're checking to see if the brakes act normally. If they do, they're dry.
Let your youngster try the same thing several times until he has got it right. Everything should be smooth, with no "grabbing" of the brakes or
noticeable decrease in speed.
Emphasize that brake-riding should always be done if you've tested your brakes and found them wet, and immediately after passing through flooded areas.
During this demonstration show your beginner how driving through puddles of water that affect only the right-hand or left-hand tires can create one-sided drag sometimes severe enough to wrench the wheel out of a driver's grip. Warn your teenager either to avoid such water traps or to take them cautiously.
3. "GIVE ME SPACE"
Experienced superhighway drivers know the importance of staying behind or ahead of what some people call wolf packs - several fast-moving vehicles bunched together. Wolf-packing can be the cause of high-speed fatalities.
As each of my four daughters came of driving age, we'd take a spin on our local highway and I'd drive up behind one of these swarms. Invariably, within seconds, another dozen cars and trucks would catch up with us from behind, and we'd be swept along in the middle of the pack.
"Right now," I'd say, "we're at the mercy of the worst driver around us, a guy who might be drunk, half asleep or careless. Any kind of trouble at all somebody slamming on the brakes and we'd be crushed from both ends."
The point made, I'd reduce speed gradually explaining that I was lengthening the distance between us and the car ahead, but not abruptly enough to be struck from behind. As we eased down to a comfortable speed, vehicles started to pass us and we were soon relatively alone again on the highway. "You can pass a slow pack, if you want to," I'd add. "Just never stay in one. Give me space!' is an expression I've heard you use. Make that your slogan for highway driving."
4. CONCENTRATE! CONCENTRATE!
Experienced drivers keep their eyes on the road ahead despite distractions. Not so the beginning driver. One of my daughters dropped a credit card on the floor of her car. She looked down just for an instant and demolished the rear end of a car in front of her.
Fortunately no one was injured, but I added another demonstration to my list. I placed a cardboard box in the parking lot we used for driver training, designating the box as another car. I'd tell my daughter to drive over to the box and stop. As she approached the box, I'd drop something on the floor near her feet and say, "Oops!" The first time I did this with each of two daughters they hit the box. Subsequently I'd try to distract them by dropping something at odd moments. They'd look down, then catch themselves. Soon they were responding with barely a flicker.
5. WHEN IN DOUBT, GO STRAIGHT
Roll-over and solo accidents are common among young drivers. Excessive speed on curves or slick surfaces are two causes. Another, more subtle, cause is the seemingly safe quick turn at low speed.
The driver is approaching a fork in the road. The road turns to the left, we'll say, and also continues straight ahead. Halfway through the junction, the driver realizes the left fork should have been chosen and makes a sharp turn. Under adverse conditions and if the turn is quick enough, some automobiles can roll over at 15 m.p.h. and thousands of them have.
Since I could think of no way to safely demonstrate the dangers of a slow-quick turn, I would take a daughter for a drive and proceed midway through one of these forked junctions. As I started into the fork, I would exclaim excitedly that I should have driven left. However, I would continue straight ahead, braking the car to a gradual stop at the edge of the road.
"If I had tried to make that quick turn," I would tell her, "we could be upside down right now. Or if a car behind us had been turning left, it could have run into our side. Straight ahead is the only safe direction in this situation."
6. LOOK TO YOUR TIRES
I toured several junkyards with my daughters during their driver training days to give them a sober view of the exciting new world of driving. On many of these terrible wrecks, there were worn or bald tires, some of them blown, and several with cracks in the side walls. The association between bad tires and bad wrecks was clear. Today my kids would go in hock to keep safe tires on their cars and that's the attitude you want to instill.
7. A CURE FOR BLINDNESS
The steadiest of us has trouble fighting down anger when victimized by an oncoming driver who refuses to dim his high beams. It is rarer still for a teenager not to retaliate by switching on his own high beams. That's the kind of reaction that can get both drivers killed. One blind driver is enough.
You will need two cars. Park one with it's high beams on a quarter mile or so up an empty street; then join your teenager in the other car and have him drive toward the parked car and its blinding headlights. Tell him to switch on his low beams and, keeping the other car in sight, watch the right edge of the road. In a few moments, your youngster will have passed the other car none the worse for wear.
Explain that the low beams light up the road immediately in front of the car, enabling the driver to see the edge of the road much more clearly than he would with high beams. I practiced this technique several times with my daughters to be sure they maintained a normal distance from the edge of the road and had no tendency to drive over during the exercise.
8. DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE
The terrible risks of driving and drinking, speed and recklessness are thoroughly covered in driver education courses. But even in these well reviewed matters, parents should be sure their teenagers have a memorable and personal confrontation with the deadly prospects that are in store for the kid who refuses to behave himself behind the wheel. Alcohol, for example, was found in the blood of 58 percent of the teenage drivers killed in traffic accidents in 1980 and 43 percent of those youngsters had enough alcohol in their blood to be declared legally drunk! Apparently, lectures and films don't always get through.
I can suggest something that will get through a chat between your youngster and a paramedic at your local fire department rescue squad. Ask the paramedic to show your son or daughter the tools of his trade.
Bad wrecks are never clean. In fact, they are worse than most of us can imagine. Glass is everywhere, seats are overturned and metal is often twisted into an impenetrable maze. Gaining entrance to a car to rescue a victim often calls for highly specialized equipment: jacks, prying bars and, or extreme cases, torches and power driven saws.
When your host at the rescue unit has finished pointing out his tools and explaining the conditions under which they're used, the image will stick indelibly in your youngster's mind.
READERS' DIGEST, December, 1982