This has become something of an annual ritual in this space. School has started again. Many of you have young drivers who will be feeling their newfound independence, and will be driving to school, functions, and well, just driving. I wrote this for my kids. I hope you cut this out and claim it as your own. Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death amongst school aged kids.
I am writing you this letter in hopes you will read it and get something from it. We've had all those talks, but sometimes the written word is more effective. I'm hoping you take this to heart.
I want to tell you that every time you get in a car I worry about you. I especially worry about you when you are in a car with your friends.
Why do I worry about you? Well, when I was your age, I had some of the same feelings you no doubt have now. Not many bad things have happened yet in your life, so you tend to think, "Well it can't happen to me!" It is natural for teenagers and young adults to feel invincible.
You want so badly to be grown up, and have me recognize and treat you like you are. Well, to warrant that treatment, you must prove you are responsible. Responsibility is a part of growing up.
I do trust you will make the right decisions, and that is why I allow you to drive. However, there are some times in life where you don't get a second opportunity to make the right decision. Driving a car falls into that category.
I worry about you because automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among young people. Did you know that? More kids die in car wrecks than by disease, natural disasters, and all other reasons combined.
I want you around a long time. I want to watch in awe as you grow and accomplish all those great things in life I know you will. I want to be able to hold my grandchildren and spoil them. I like having you around.
What sort of lecture would be complete without me giving you a few pointers on driving and things to remember?
Now that you are driving, you are the one responsible for your vehicle. Don't ever drive a vehicle you aren't sure is safe.
You need to check the oil every other time you buy gasoline.
You need to check the air in your tires. Under-inflated tires can heat up, blow out, and cause you to loose control.
You need to tell me if you hear noises or something just doesn't feel right about your car. I promise to check it out and get it fixed if needed.
Don't follow vehicles too closely. If someone is riding your tail, get off the road at the earliest safe time and let them pass.
Watch out for aggressive drivers and try to stay out of their way. Definitely don't get involved with them by trying to get even, or succumbing to road rage. Nobody ever wins, and such events put drivers (and passengers) of both cars at risk, as well as any other vehicles on the road.
Don't drink or do drugs. Don't ever drive if you have. Don't ever get into a car with someone who has.
If you happen to be a passenger in a car where someone is drinking or doing drugs ask them politely to let you out. I will always drop what I'm doing and come and get you. I promise there will be no lecture directed at you either.
It is OK to speak up and tell a driver their actions are scaring you, or that you feel uncomfortable. After all, it is your life, and it is OK to be assertive when it comes to your personal safety. Speak up!
Don't try to punch numbers on your cell phone while driving down the road. Don't EVER try to send a text message while driving. In those brief moments you are distracted, a lot can happen. You might not see that car in front of you making a sudden turn, or making an emergency stop. You might miss that ball bouncing out into the road which will most likely have a kid chasing after. What could happen then?
And when you're driving, don't make any assumptions about the actions of another driver. Just because someone has a turn signal blinking does not mean they are going to turn. It might not have cancelled the last time they used it. Also, be on the lookout for people who make turns, especially last moment turns, WITHOUT using a turn signal.
Watch out for deer and other large animals. Deer will sometimes freeze when the bright lights of your headlights blind them. Many times when you see one deer, there are more. Watch for that second or third one to come up out of the ditch in front of you. Dusk and dawn are particularly bad times for encountering deer, as they are on the move during then.
Sometimes even cows get loose and can be standing in the road. Often they aren't smart enough to get out of your way either. Collisions with large animals are never pretty, and you can get hurt badly, or even killed.
If you ever get a bee or a bug in the car, don't try to kill it while you're going down the road. A few moments tending to the bug are not spent tending to your driving, and a lot can happen in those few seconds. Pull over as soon as you can, in a safe area, and THEN kill or get the bug out of the car.
Leave for school a few minutes early. Wait a few minutes after school before you leave. You can avoid the mad rush that way, and be able to take your time. Many accidents are caused by people being in a rush and not paying attention, or who take unnecessary risks.
Just know I love you, and want you to be safe. I can't imagine life without you.
Until next time-
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In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.