I’ve been thinking about driving quite a bit lately. First of all, we have five drivers in the house and three vehicles. This means I am doing a bit of advanced logistical planning to make sure everyone has a way to summer school, soccer practice, work, piano lessons, Scouts, and social events. And I thought our pace of activities would slow a bit once school was out!
However, what really concerns me is having my three oldest children out and about in DC metro traffic. Anyone who has ever driven in this area knows that a great many of the drivers view traffic laws as mere suggestions and assume these rules do not apply to them. It is necessary to be ever vigilant and on guard. As an experienced driver, I find driving around here challenging. For the inexperienced it can be fatal. This is especially true when alcohol is involved. Once again our community has suffered its annual graduation party tragedy.
And so the defining image of the 2007 graduation season will be a white convertible Volkswagen Cabriolet, upside down, its roof gone, and four young lives gone with it. Two 18-year-old West Potomac graduates and two George Mason University students were killed late Thursday when their car suddenly veered into the path of a tractor-trailer on a ramp from the Capital Beltway. A fifth teenager, a 17-year-old West Potomac student, was hospitalized after being cut out of the wreckage. She was released yesterday afternoon, authorities said.
I must be clear that the accident investigation is still ongoing and there has been no evidence released that the driver was drinking. However, alcohol was found in the car and none of the five occupants of the car were of legal drinking age.
I wish I could say I have the answer to stop the senseless loss of life in auto accidents by teens. I don’t. Rich Leonardi reflects on this as well.
Unfortunately, if anyone suggested bumping back the legal driving age by one year, every cheap labor-dependent retailer from here to Bentonville, Arkansas would flood the nation's statehouses with lobbyists offering statistics about how much safer teen-driving is than, say, teen chainsaw-juggling.
I do have some suggestions.
1. Be an uncool parent. Know where your kids are going, with whom they are going, and what they are doing. Make them check in when they change locations. Have them home by midnight. Nothing good happens after midnight. Wait up for them so they know they will have to face you when they walk in the door.
2. Do not buy your teen a sporty car. If you buy a car that looks like it belongs on the NASCAR circuit your teen will drive it like a racecar driver. All of my teens have driven the family minivan. It doesn’t get many style points, but it doesn’t tempt them to imitate Jeff Gordon either.
3. A driver’s license is a privilege, not a right. You, not the state, determines when your child is old enough to drive. My rule: boys do not get a license until their Boy Scout Eagle project is done. That means my oldest was a high school senior and my next one was a high school junior before they got their licenses. My daughter was also seventeen and a junior. Even once they have their license, driving privileges can be revoked. In Virginia, I can just call the DMV and with no justification other than my parental preference my child’s license will be suspended for six months. The credible threat of such a phone call makes a very big impression.
4. The state of Virginia says teens must have their license for one full year before they can drive after midnight, carry more than one passenger or use a cell phone while driving—including one with a hands-free option. If these are not your state laws, make them your parental laws.
5. Light a candle, get your Rosary out, and pray. In spite of everything you say and do, teens can and do make mistakes. My oldest totaled his car at college a few months ago. He replaced it once he came home for the summer. I made sure he had our parish priest bless his new car. Sometimes seatbelts, air bags, and prudent driving habits are not enough.
In addition to my suggestions, the Vatican has offered a few tips for motorists.
"Cars particularly lend themselves to being used by their owners to show off, and as a means for outshining other people and arousing a feeling of envy," it said.
It urged readers not to behave in an "unsatisfactory and even barely human manner" when driving and to avoid what it called "unbalanced behavior ... impoliteness, rude gestures, cursing, blasphemy ..."
Praying while driving was encouraged.
(UPDATE: VATICAN SOURCE DOCUMENT NOW ONLINE)
I drove to New Jersey for a soccer tournament this past weekend. I wish several of the drivers I encountered along I-95 as well as the New Jersey Turnpike had seen this Vatican document before they took to the road. I found my travels this weekend were a definite challenge to my virtue of patience and constituted a near occasion of sin! Prayer was a necessity.