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Today’s post continues my series drawing upon the book Traffic (2009) by Tom Vanderbilt. One of his many right-on observations is that drivers “measure themselves in tickets and crashes” (p. 64).
In driving as in life, we respond to criticism in part by pointing out success, or at least the absence of catastrophe: “Well. I didn’t hurt anyone, so how bad could it have been?” If our driving manages not to draw the attention of law enforcement or not result in injury to others or damage to a car or property, we not only count ourselves lucky but also competent.
Vanderbilt’s point, of course, is that this thinking is wrong. Simply because bad driving — following too closely, speeding, not wearing a seat belt, continually running yellow/red lights, etc. — has not earned a ticket or caused a crash does not mean our driving is acceptable, much less safe. My friend and auto expert Jim MacPherson tells the story of a elderly person who drove accident-free for 45 years and then got into a serious crash, all because she had been doing what when had been doing for all of those years without consequence: following the car ahead closely.
Two pointers for parents of teen drivers arise from Vanderbilt’s observation. First, because parents are role models for their teen drivers, it is doubly important that we not measure our role modeling by tickets and crashes. Avoiding law enforcement and getting away with what we know are unwise if not dangerous practices, especially if followed by a new driver, does not constitute being a role model. Those setting the example need to follow the rules of the road and best driving practices at all times. Teaching teen drivers where they can cut corners, literally or figuratively, or push the safety envelope is not responsible parenting.
Second we cannot measure teen drivers by whether they have earned tickets or have crashed, because if the posts on this blog demonstrate anything, it is that a teen driver who has never had a crash and never received a ticket is still a beginner and high risk driver. A teen driver who has escaped tickets and avoided crashes is on a good path, but still should be counted as little more than lucky.
Measuring ourselves or our teens by tickets and crashes is a trap for the unwary. Try to steer clear of it.