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|Publisher:||Chicago Review Press, Incorporated|
|Edition description:||Second Edition, Revised and expanded edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
During 2006, I was a regular, mainstream parent of a teen driver. I occasionally worried about my son's safety, but I was generally confident that the training I had given him — what state law required and the literature suggested — was sufficient.
On December 2, 2006, everything changed. My seventeen-year-old son Reid died in a one-car crash. Driving on a three-lane interstate highway that he probably had never driven before, on a dark night just after rain had stopped, and apparently traveling above the speed limit, he went too far into a curve before turning, then overcorrected and went into a spin. While the physics of the moment could have resulted in any number of trajectories, his car hit the point of a guardrail precisely at the middle of the driver's-side door, which crushed the left side of his chest. Had the impact occurred eighteen inches forward or backward, he would have survived. No alcohol, no drugs, no cell phone; his passengers were legal, and he was well within the state's curfew for teen drivers. He died from speed, an unfamiliar road, and inexperience with how to handle a skid. His two passengers were injured and briefly hospitalized.
Reid's crash was a precursor to a string of horrific crashes in Connecticut. In August 2007, four teens died in one crash, and then in October, a seventeen-year-old driver killed himself, his fourteen-year-old sister, and her fifteen-year-old friend.
Reading news accounts of these other crashes, I reflected more intently on how I had — or hadn't — controlled Reid's driving. These tragedies focused me and indeed our entire state on the dangers of teen driving. I found myself alternately defending my own conduct but then asking — well, if I did what I was supposed to, why was Reid dead?
Comparing other crashes to Reid's, and other parents' actions to my own, allowed me to indulge the thought that I had been a responsible parent. Reid's mom and I had allowed him to buy a safe, sensible Volvo, not a race car. I had educated myself about Connecticut's teen driving laws, made sure Reid understood them, given him more than the required twenty hours of on-the-road instruction, enrolled him in a driving school, demanded that he always wear his seat belt, revoked his driving privileges when he had disobeyed our household's rules, and even twice confiscated his car for a week or more. He drove crash free for eleven months. Looking back, it did not seem that I had made some horrible, obvious mistake. So where did I go wrong? Would a stricter father's son still be alive?
Just a week before the first anniversary of Reid's crash, I was driving to work, listening to the morning radio news, when the announcer said that our governor was forming a Teen Safe Driving Task Force to revise Connecticut's laws, with the hope of reducing the recurring carnage on our roads. The report stated that bereaved parents would be among those asked to serve on the task force. When I got to my office, I called my state senator, my state representative, a friend who knew the commissioner of motor vehicles, and a colleague who knew the governor, and asked for their help in being appointed, which I was, a week later.
Our assignment was to review the state's teen driving laws. As we proceeded, I relived how I had trained Reid and how and when I had controlled his driving. I learned new facts about teen driving and discovered that while supervising my son, I had not been as well-informed a parent as I had thought.
In the late 1990s, Connecticut joined a growing list of states that adopted what are called graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws. New drivers — generally between ages fifteen and eighteen — face a prescribed classroom curriculum and a certain number of required driving hours supervised by an instructor, parent, or guardian. After the learner's permit stage, GDL rules delay new drivers from carrying passengers, usually for several months, and impose a curfew in the range of 9:00 PM to 1:00 AM. At eighteen, these drivers graduate to an unrestricted adult license. Beyond these basics, however, the state laws vary widely.
I learned that Connecticut in 2005–2006 had one of the nation's more lenient laws, allowing teens to obtain a license as early as four months after turning sixteen and with just twenty hours on the road and several hours of classroom instruction about speeding and drunk driving. For the first three months of being licensed, Connecticut teens could carry as passengers only a supervising driver and immediate family, but after that, they could pile their friends into their cars. The statewide curfew was midnight.
As I dug into the mountain of information made available to task force members, I remembered what I had been thinking when I let Reid drive. Reid's close friend Mike was a few months older, and his buddy Tom was a full year ahead; by early 2006, they both had licenses and cars. In January, Reid had completed his learner's permit training and received his license. In lockstep with just about every other parent in our suburban town, my wife and I had agreed to consider letting Reid buy a used car.
I'd taken him out on lightly traveled back roads. I'd reviewed the state's recommended list of skills and situations to be taught to new drivers, and we'd spent time on each one. We'd practiced evasive maneuvers in an empty parking lot early on a Sunday morning. While taking driver's ed, Reid had shown himself to me to be an alert, coordinated driver.
That our state had adopted GDL requirements was comforting. I'd assumed that the legislature, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the police had gotten together to formulate sensible rules that, if followed, would keep Reid safe.
Finally, I cannot deny — nor, I think, can any busy parent — that having my son drive was alluringly convenient, living as we did in a suburban community in which walking was usually not an option. Reid getting his license provided an extra pickup and delivery service.
My wife and I overlaid our own rules onto state law. We were to know his destinations and his whereabouts at all times. Like all of his friends, he had a cell phone, and he was under orders to check in. We made it clear repeatedly that driving was a privilege and not a right. Our rules could be modified as needed based on particular circumstances, such as our judgment that he had not gotten enough sleep. Reid understood that when he arrived home I would be waiting for him and would conduct my own interrogation, checking for coherence and sobriety. On a few occasions when he missed his curfew, I confiscated his keys. Although I don't recall discussing it overtly with Reid, I think he also understood that I was regularly inspecting every nook and crevice in his car — just like his room — and I was keeping an eye on his mileage.
As I let the reins out on Reid's driving — longer periods in the car by himself, longer distances, driving at night or in bad weather — I relived my own driving experience and wondered if I had inadvertently conveyed any bad habits to my son. To my relief, he continued to show himself to be a calm, coordinated driver, with a good sense of the vehicle's position on the road. No news became good news.
In April, when Reid had been licensed for three months, an officer pulled him over for a moving violation: crossing two lanes without signaling. According to Reid, the violation was questionable. The fine was $204, which Reid paid from his own savings account.
As the summer wore on, I became concerned about Reid revving the engine — it was the only way he could make his clunky used car seem cool. I was not particularly alarmed but more concerned that he would rev the engine while on the road into an excessive speed and find himself with another expensive ticket. In late September, he was cited for driving 42 mph in a 25 mph zone. Because this was his second moving violation before turning eighteen, he not only incurred a fine but also had to attend a driver retraining class at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He signed up for the last possible day: December 2.
I suppose that subconsciously I appreciated that teenage drivers are inexperienced and not yet mentally mature. Yet I did not personally know any family that had lost a teenage driver in a crash; I had survived my own teen years; I knew my son — and had trained him — and I assumed that the state's laws would keep him safe.
But that's not what happened; Reid died six hours before he was due to attend the DMV retraining.
In my first two months serving on the task force, I sifted through a mountain of statistics, analyses, and reports and found that teen driving is more dangerous than I had understood while parenting Reid, and that Connecticut's GDL laws were weaker than I had realized. I had allowed Reid to drive in situations that were much more perilous than I had thought.
In addition to research, subcommittee meetings, and task force sessions, I met and spoke at length with police, psychologists, doctors, nurses, prosecutors, judges, school principals, driving instructors, social workers, traffic safety officials, and other bereaved parents. As I began to read and listen to facts and proposals for improving the laws, a question popped into my head and then repeated itself week after week, each time a bit louder and more tinged with disbelief: Why had I not learned all of this earlier? This was a maddening combination of outward questioning (Why didn't anyone tell me?) and inward (Why didn't I better educate myself?). Why had I not been more conservative in my decisions about Reid's driving? Like so many other parents, had I been seduced by the convenience of having another driver in the house?
During the first six months of 2008, the task force became nearly an obsession. We traveled to high schools across the state and appeared on statewide television. I was interviewed on WCBS radio about my reeducation.
Within four months — a quickness rare in the world of public policy — the task force recommended, the governor endorsed, and the legislature adopted stricter rules for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds: doubling the required hours during the learner's permit stage; moving the curfew from midnight to 11:00 PM; prohibiting teen drivers from transporting anyone other than parents, guardians, and siblings until licensed for a full year; suspending licenses, starting at thirty days, for moving violations (instead of just monetary fines); providing faster court prosecutions and driver retraining sessions; requiring a parent or guardian to attend a two-hour safety class with each teen during driver's ed; requiring all passengers of teen drivers to wear seat belts; and allowing law enforcement to confiscate a teen's license and impound the car for forty-eight hours if the situation warranted.
After the governor signed the bill before a bank of TV cameras and a crowd of legislators in the sun-splashed courtyard of a high school, I calculated the difference these new laws would have made in the life of my son. Had the 2008 law been in effect in 2006, Reid would have had double the hours of required on-the-road training; my wife or I would have attended a safety class with him while he had his learner's permit; his first moving violation (the double lane change) would have earned him a thirty-day license suspension; his second violation would have cost him his license for sixty days, plus a fine for license reinstatement; he would have taken his driver retraining class sooner; and he would not have been allowed to have the passengers who were with him when he crashed. The new laws were too late but not too little.
When all of this settled in my mind, there was no doubt that I had to find a way to communicate my new perspectives to other parents. It was undeniably true that I had not fully appreciated how dangerous teen driving is in the best of circumstances or how risk escalates in a variety of predictable and therefore controllable situations. Having read all of the available literature and consulted the mainstream sources, I started to think that parents need better information.
And so, in October 2009, I started speaking out, by launching From Reid's Dad, my national blog for parents of teen drivers. Eighteen months and fifty posts later, I had the basis for what became the first edition of this book, published in 2013.
As soon as the first edition was published, it became clear that it fulfilled a need. Publisher's Weekly called it "a clear, concise, and potentially life-saving book that should be required reading for every parent before their teen gets behind the wheel." Allan Williams, a preeminent traffic safety researcher and formerly the chief scientist of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, lauded its evidence-based compilation of lessons. Library Journal called it "a welcome addition to an underserved topic." Teen safe driving advocates, traffic and youth safety organizations, and government agencies embraced its parent-role message as a complement to motor vehicle and rules-of-the-road instruction. The Governors Highway Safety Association, composed of the Highway Safety Offices of all fifty states and US territories, and the National Safety Council recognized the book with national public service awards.
The success of Not So Fast's first edition prompted discussion of a second edition that would sharpen and improve the book's lessons, incorporate 2012–2016 research about teen driver safety, and update specifics. Yet as I contemplated a revision, it occurred to me that the book would benefit from an additional voice, a traffic safety expert, a highly regarded professional, and, if I could find such a person, a mother of a teen driver. My inquiries among what I now call my "traffic safety friends" yielded an immediate consensus about the most qualified person in the entire country to enlist as coauthor: Pam Shadel Fischer.
So, in 2016, I asked and she accepted. As we began our collaboration, it became immediately apparent that Pam would bring to this second edition not only the perspective of Zach's mom in addition to Reid's dad but also a depth and breadth of understanding of safe teen driving, honed from more than three decades of immersion in safer teen driving.
I am grateful for Pam's collaboration, but I am also elated for parents and readers who will now reap the benefits of her contributions.
I've been a transportation safety consultant for thirty years, with a particular passion for teen driving. I successfully lobbied in my state for stronger teen licensing laws, chaired a highly respected commission that called for adoption of the nation's first novice driver decal requirement (a sticker that identifies to law enforcement when a teen is behind the wheel), and organized and built a successful statewide teen safe driving coalition. I also facilitated the nation's first all-teen safe driving commission, authored national best-practice reports, presented at dozens of state and national conferences, and gave more press interviews than I could count.
But being a mother to Zachary, my one and only child, has always been my most important transportation safety job.
I had been working for AAA for nearly a decade when Zach was born, so I leveraged my expertise to keep him safe. He rode, properly secured, in a child safety seat and then a booster seat until he was big enough to sit safely in a seat belt. He always wore a helmet when Rollerblading and ice skating, even when he was just in the driveway or at a nearby pond. I taught him to cross the street only at corners, never in between. My concern for his safety extended to the littlest of things — making sure his shoes were tied tightly, making him wear a hat on sunny days, cutting up his food to prevent a choking hazard. Sure, Zach got his share of bumps and bruises, and even a mad dash to the emergency room when I, unbeknownst to me, fed him a spoiled grilled cheese sandwich. (Five hours and lots of fluids later, he was fine.)
Yet when he turned sixteen, the minimum age for obtaining a learner's permit in my state, I began shaking in my boots, literally.
"You've got this — you're the safety mom," said all my friends. Certainly I knew all about the risks for teens. I could cite from memory the latest teen driver research findings. I understood how and why graduated driver licensing (GDL) works, and I had even taught a teen safe driving orientation program for parents. Still, that didn't change the fact that Zach, a smart, sensible, athletic kid, suffered from the same problems as every other teen driver: a lack of experience and an immature brain.
I was grateful that I had done my homework and purchased a vehicle with plenty of safety features, including front and side-impact airbags and traction stability control. I also took solace in the fact that I was an involved parent who gave her teen enough structured support to allow him to make good choices, while not compromising on safety. We even signed a parent-teen driving agreement.
Excerpted from "Not So Fast"
Copyright © 2018 RSH, LLC and Pam Shadel Fischer.
Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Authors' Note xii
Introduction: "Not So Fast, Young Man/Lady" 1
1 Tim's Story 8
2 Pam's Story 17
3 Why There Is No Such Thing as a Safe Teen Driver 23
4 Baseline Dangers and Higher-Risk Factors 27
5 "My Kid Is Very Responsible!" 31
6 What Driver's Ed Is and Isn't 35
7 The ABCs of GDL (Graduated Driver Licensing) 38
8 When Should a Teen Start Driving? 43
9 Acting Like an Air Traffic Controller 47
10 Negotiating and Enforcing a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement 51
11 The Difference Between Purposeful Driving and Joyriding 63
12 Getting a Teen to Acknowledge the Risks 65
13 The Ceremony of the Keys 68
14 The Unappreciated Danger of Passengers, Even Siblings 71
15 Managing Curfews 76
16 Supervising the Brand-New Driver 81
17 Traffic Tickets as Teachable Moments 84
18 Car Buying and Sharing, and Saving on Gas 89
19 Distracted Driving: Texting, "Connected Cars," GPS, and Headphones 95
20 Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving 105
21 Drowsy Driving 109
22 What Schools Can Do 113
23 Blind Zones 120
24 Vehicle Identification Stickers 123
25 Defensive Driver Education as a Supplement 126
26 Non-English-Speaking and Single-Parent Households 128
27 Supervising Other People's Teens 130
28 In Summary: Tips from Tim and Pam 134
Afterword: A Plea to Parents 137
Teen Driving Resources 140
Model Parent-Teen Driving Agreement 144
About the Authors 159