Wheelding Power, Wheelding Responsibility


More and more teens are getting behind the wheel. Are they taking the right strides towards a safer experience?

By: James Cassar

 Right now, a young adult is celebrating their sixteenth birthday. The teen of the hour’s hopes are high, the promise of a freshly-minted driver’s license and its freedom swirling in their mind. In mere seconds, music begins to swell in the room, enhancing the excitement. However, the only noise emanating from anywhere in earshot is a trusting father jingling keys. In a brief exchange of hugs and heartfelt warnings, the new driver is out the door. The father does not know what will happen on the road tonight, but he knows he just let a weapon escape into the open.

 According to the Department of Transportation and KeepTheDrive.com, over four thousand teens’ lives were claimed by automobile accidents in 2008. Even though this statistic is down from nine thousand deaths in 1975, the number is still staggering. When analyzing the crash data of the country, the DoT concluded that sixteen is the riskiest age for drivers, not just because of their inexperience with driving, but also their lack of better judgment.
 Loudoun County is taking well-calculated steps to educate young drivers. This sector of Northern Virginia has been experiencing a steep hike in population since the late 1980s. Seeing how this puts more drivers at risk, the school system’s driver education program is packaged with an informative and humbling Partners in Safe Driving presentation that not only reinforces the laws outlined in class, but gives students a sharp dose of the reality of reckless driving.
 “Teenagers are way too confident in their abilities,” remarked junior Logan Feierbach. “They think they’re invincible [and] make some really stupid decisions.” This generation is easily the most preoccupied yet, with their iCulture blending in seamlessly to their daily routines. Texting-and-driving is quickly becoming the closet killer, but law enforcement is bent on stopping this motorist monster in its tracks. First-time offenders are required to pay a fine of $20; repeat offenses can cost an auto-texter $50 or more. Even though misdemeanors still run rampant in 140 characters or less, it’s a step in the right direction in order to curb distracted drivers.
 Another disconcerting statistic comes from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Most accidents occur from 9 p.m. to midnight. Although most drivers under 18 are off the asphalt by the wee hours, teens flirt with illicit substances and drive regardless of the consequences. Driver education classes try to instill better behavior before their pupils get behind the wheel, but with great power comes great supposed invincibility. Senior Gene Kelley concludes, “If you’re smart enough to drink in moderation, then you’re smart enough to know that one drink can be too much.” Fellow upperclassman Caty Beegen adds, “Remember: you’re driving a heavy piece of machinery. One false move and someone could die.” Morbid as that seems it’s the turbulent truth. Driving and drinking mix a dangerous cocktail and your fellow students are keen enough to know it.
 The sound of the garage opening jostles the nervous father from a restless, worried sleep. Moments pass before his child walks steadily through the door, unscathed and sober. A weight seems to be lifted off both of their shoulders. The keys return to a more veteran driver. They both sleep soundly, knowing that when much is given, much is tested, but it takes a safe driver to make the most of that opportunity.