How not to get Killed in a Car Wreck
Few things excite a teenager as much as getting a driver’s license. It is, as they say, a “rite of passage” in our society. It marks the start of adulthood. It’s the opportunity for a kind of independence that didn’t exist back before the automobile, when most kids lived on farms and it was often a long walk into town. It’s the chance to get a job on your own. Driving is fun, even if you are only driving around your town.
And few things frighten the teen’s parents and grandparents as much as that new driver’s license. Why the different viewpoints on this major milestone?
Currently, the annual death toll in car accidents is around 32,000. That number has been dropping, due to safer cars, better enforcement of drunk driving laws, seatbelt use and other factors. But a dropping number will be no comfort to your family if you are one of the 32,000 dead this year or next year. Despite the decline in deaths, you still have a lot better chance of being killed in a car wreck then you do of winning the lottery. Sad, I know, but there it is.
A website entitled Teen Car Accidents (www.car-accidents.com/teen-car-accidents.html) says: “Each Year over 5,000 teens ages 16 to 20 Die due to Fatal injuries caused (by) Car accidents. About 400,000 drivers age 16 to 20 will be seriously injured. The risk of being involved in a car accident (is) the highest for drivers aged 16- to 19-year-old than it is for any other age group. For each mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are about four times more likely than other drivers to crash.” The risk is even higher in the first year the teen is driving, because of lack of experience. And having other kids in the car increases the risk, as the driver is more likely to be distracted, to drive recklessly to show off, or to clown around.
That’s why some states have wisely adopted graduated licensing. New teen drivers must have an adult driver with them for a period of time, can’t drive with other kids in the car, and/or are limited in the hours they drive. Such rules cut down on the number of weeping parents burying dead children.
Every one of those 5,000 dead kids last year didn’t think it could happen to her or to him. That may be why teens are less likely to use seatbelts than older drivers.
The only good news for you is that boys are more likely to crash than girls, I guess because they like to show off and drive faster, drive without seatbelts and drink and drive. Of course, even that doesn’t help you if you are riding in a car with a boy at the wheel.
Everyone alive is at risk of dying every minute. An airplane could fall out of the sky on you—it’s rare, but it happens. The trick is to do everything you can to reduce your risk, just like smart soldiers in a war dig a fox hole to hide in every time they stop moving, just in case.
You cannot completely eliminate your risk of dying in a car wreck. You can be the safest driver in the world, and some drunk in a truck can crash into you. I’ve been in five accidents in my life (so far), all because the other driver made a mistake. Lucky no one was hurt badly in any of them.
You can, however, greatly reduce your risk of dying in a car crash, if you follow some simple rules.
1. Never speed. Never ride with someone who speeds. Yes, any driver can get careless, especially in a low speed zone, and exceed the limits. Grandma and I have had speeding tickets. It’s especially hard to remember in the 25-mile-an-hour neighborhoods, where the limit is for the safety of kids who may be playing in or near the street, not for the driver, and it feels like you are creeping along. But you wouldn’t want to live your life knowing you had killed a child by speeding. And high speed is a factor in a large number of fatal car crashes.
2. Always wear your seatbelts. Require anyone who rides with you to wear them. While it’s not true that a cop has “never unbuckled a dead person,” a lot more of the people killed in car wrecks aren’t wearing seat belts than are. Lack of seat belts is another a big factor in crashes where people die.
3. Never drink and drive. Never ride with a driver who has been drinking, smoking pot or doing drugs. Impaired drivers account for a large number of crashes. They have done tests where they have a driver do an obstacle course in traffic cones. Then they have him drink a couple of beers and do the course again. The drinking driver always does worse, but often thinks he is doing better! That lack of judgment makes the risk worse.
4. Don’t let yourself be distracted by talking on a cell phone (even hands free) or, worse, texting while driving. Don’t ride with someone who does. There are studies that say the distraction of cell phones make you drive as badly as someone who has been drinking. Near where we lived in
a four-year-old girl was killed by a driver on a cell phone who wasn’t paying
attention and slammed into her mother’s van. Imagine him having to look in the
mirror every morning knowing he killed a little girl because he thought his
call was so important.
5. Don’t drive if you are tired. Pull over and take a nap, or get someone else to drive. Fatigue causes a lot of accidents too. We had a neighbor in Madison who fell asleep at the wheel one morning. He died. So did the mother and little boy he hit head on.
6. Try to only drive or ride in safe cars. That can cost money, but funerals are expensive, too. Make sure the breaks, tires and other safety features are well maintained. A newer car with safety features like airbags is better. A larger car may not be “cool,” but it’s safer. Being dead doesn’t make you popular either.
It’s hard to tell a friend, especially a boyfriend, that you won’t ride with him because he speeds, or drinks or drives carelessly or has an unsafe car (or, maybe, all four!). It can hurt if he (or she) gets mad or teases you about it. But having your head go through a windshield at 80-miles-per hour can hurt a lot worse. Having your face scared for life in a car wreck will hurt for life.
7. If it’s raining hard, and you come to a large puddle—a flooded section of the road—don’t try to drive through it. The water can rise very rapidly, stalling out your car, leaving you to wade out looking stupid while you car gets ruined from flood waters. Yes, I know from experience.
Looking stupid and a ruined car are not the worst things that can happen. Every year, some people are in stalled cars in a flood, get out and are swept away and drowned. Talk about wrecking your weekend.
Of course, rain, ice and snow are likely to cause crashes, and require extra care when driving. “Extra care” can be taken by not driving in them at all, unless absolutely necessary.
Nothing can remove all risk of car accidents. But if you follow these rules, you are much more likely to live to an age to worry about your own kids or grandkids driving their first car. (Maybe by then the cars will fly and you’ll be twice as worried.)
Advice for my Granddaughter: For When I’m Gone
Advice for Boys: From an Old Marine by Robert A. Hall
All royalties go to charity.