I want to begin this post with a disclaimer of sorts, because I’m not in the best mood today and I realize even as I flesh this post out in my head that some of it’s going to read as antagonistic, and that it will almost certainly be disorganized. I just want all of you reading to know in advance that, while this post was indeed sparked by some comments on another post I wrote this week, nothing I’m about to write is intended as a personal attack on anyone.

There. Let’s go.

One of the things that really distressed me in the weeks after Ginny’s accident was the sentiment, both implied and expressed, that if she hadn’t been driving an SUV the kids in the other car would have lived. Aside from the fact that this is a really inappropriate and insensitive thing to imply or express to someone with a loved one in intensive care, it seems to me to miss a larger point entirely. Because, yeah. Ginny was driving an SUV – a small SUV, but an SUV nonetheless. She was driving that SUV under the speed limit, safely, and responsibly in her own lane, though, and she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We love the kids we lost. We miss them. They were good, responsible kids with bright futures ahead of them. They weren’t messing around. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They, too, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the driver made a mistake – a mistake that every one of us has made at some point while driving. She overcorrected. That’s it.

To imply that my sister was somehow responsible for what happened because of the vehicle she chose to drive is unfathomable. It shouldn’t matter if she was driving a Geo Metro, or a Buick, or a Jeep, or a freaking tank. She was driving it safely and responsibly in her own lane.

I hear people go on self-righteous rants all the time about how SUVs are unsafe. You know what I find unsafe? OTHER DRIVERS.

Before I moved, I put over a hundred miles on my car every day of the week. I did a lot of driving. Most people put 12,000 to 15,000 miles on a car in a year – I put 30,000 or more. And in those 30,000 miles I drove every year, I cannot keep count of how many times I had to take immediate action to evade another driver.

Driving is a serious responsibility that most of us don’t usually take seriously. I know tons of people who, when you ask them how long it takes to get somewhere, will say something like, “It takes three hours, but I can make it in two.” Because it’s a race. Because we should apparently brag about our willingness to drive too fast. I rarely drive too fast, but I’m not perfect either. I count myself in on this. Sometimes I talk on my cell phone while I’m driving. Sometimes I’m switching my CDs or reaching for something. Sometimes I’m eating. In those times when I’m doing things that distract me from the road, I’m a hazard to other drivers – and it doesn’t matter what the logo is on my steering wheel in those moments.

Last weekend our community lost four more teenagers in a car accident near my home. Jamie knew at least one of them. From most accounts, they were going a little too fast, and the driver went off the road a little, overcorrected, and hit a truck carrying wood. All four kids – 16, 16, 15, and 14 – were killed instantly. They were good kids. They were bright and promising and they had tons and tons of people who loved them, people who are just devastated that their children are gone forever.

They, too, were in a car. But it was a sports car, with a young driver behind the wheel, and when it went off the road a little I’m sure he probably panicked and jerked the wheel back the other way, and then it was too late. I’m sure that’s what happened because I did it more than once when I was a young driver.

There’s a lot of talk about safety standards and crash test ratings and SUVs vs. cars, and that’s all well and good. We want car manufacturers to make safer vehicles so that we have a better chance of surviving a serious accident. Personally, I’d like to see side-curtain airbags become as standard as front airbags have become.

But we should also be having conversations about how to be safer drivers, and how to make sure that our children are as well-prepared for the road as they possibly can be, and that we buckle our seatbelts every single time we get into a car, whether we’re driving across the street or across the country.

I had a conversation with a state trooper once who told me that over 90% of car crashes (and he emphasized the word choice of “crash” over “accident”) are caused by driver error. I believe that.

I follow the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s press releases and safety tests with great interest since Ginny’s accident, and it’s heartening to see from their data that fewer young drivers are involved in fatal crashes today than they were a decade ago. That means we’re going in the right direction. But seven lost teenagers in sixteen months is seven too many, and that makes me think we need to do more.

And while young drivers may be getting better training than they used to, we can’t neglect the older population who hasn’t had the benefit of such training recently, if ever. I became a licensed driver less than ten years ago, and the majority of my behind-the-wheel driver training was done at a table at Hardee’s. My road test required me to drive from one exit to the next (less than a mile) on the highway, and to parallel park on a deserted street, and to stop at red lights, and that’s about it.

Finally, we need to take more responsibility for our own actions, and especially when we’re driving with young passengers, we need to make sure we’re setting the best example for them. If I’m driving my car without a seat belt on and talking on the cell phone and bragging about my ability to make a trip in half the time, and I have a teenager or a child in the passenger seat, not only am I actively endangering that kid, but I’m teaching her that my behavior is okay.

I know we can do better. We must.

And I realize that this post evolved into something completely different than what it was when I began it, and that’s okay.

13 Replies to “Crash”

  1. I like to think that I’ve always been a good example to my sister while driving and believe that I have been. I know I seem really distracted but I always make sure I’m not too close to cars in front and that I avoid lanes that may suddenly back up (right lanes with on-ramps connecting just before rush hour). (…and why do fools speed in the slow lane anyway?)

    Anyway, I found that about 5,500 die in Teen Car Accidents (specifically Teen) each year. Also, while in Texas, it seemed every girl I dated had an ex from high school who had died from driving too fast – really, including the girl I date now. I always got the story, generally the reports weren’t all that glowing but the girls still had a little box with momentos in it. I lost friends growing up but, past 25, I kinda got over carrying around the scraps of paper that testified to their fatal youthful exhuberence.

    Without starting families of their own at …14, it seems that kids will do dangerous things (some) and that some of those few will pay. Many only learn from their mistakes – some just don’t get another chance.

    …I’m sorry you’re still having to deal with this, lorie – and hope the friends and family of your sister’s friends get through this okay.

    Also – I want to get started on that monorail for you and yours already.

  2. It’s frustrating because although now I drive pretty much like an 80-year-old man, when I first started driving (10 years ago too) I was pretty reckless. And even though I had very good driver-role models and was knowledgeable about being a good driver, I still drove fast, very fast.

    My stepbrother was killed last April, only months after he recieved his drivers license. He had just as good driver role models as I did. But he was 16 and he most likely showing off as he was going about 110 mph down a winding country road. He went off the road a little, overcorrected and and slammed into a tree on the other side of the road. He was killed instantly and his passenger also died. He was in a Mustang – one that had just been taken away from his sister because their mom thought it was too fast and too dangerous.

    The thing that frustrates me is that I think no matter what he was told, or how he was educated – I still think he would’ve driven that car too fast.

    Hell I did it when I was his age. I was just lucky.

    OK I had a point, but I lost it…

  3. I truly believe that the only thing that keeps most of us from being killed when behind the wheel from the ages of 16 to at least 20, is chance. When older drivers are bad drivers, it’s usually pretty obvious. There is weaving, or erratic speed, or just general “Oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-that-idiot-has-a-license”-ness. But when you just got your license, you can drive a straight line, and you turn your signal on 100 ft. before your turn, and you look pretty harmless. When something unexpected happens, it’s probably the first time, and you’re probably going to freak out, and someone’s probably going to get hurt or worse.

    It’s not the fault of the kids, and it’s not fun and games until someone gets hurt. My dad died 6 months before I got my license, but one thing he said to me was “You will be driving an enormous loaded weapon. Always remember that.” No number of simulators in a trailer next to the football field is going to change that.

    We don’t remember it all the time, not one of us. We do talk on the phone or eat or grab CDs and play DJ because 99.99% of the time we’re on the road we’re not crashing into other cars. It’s good to have an entry like this to remind all of us.

    And so ends the world’s longest comment.

  4. good articles on this subject

    …and, by the way, I TOTALLY, should have died or killed someone with my teen and early-20’s driving habits; it’s something outside of my my self and generally-applicable laws of science that I have never been in an accident while driving a car. -but really, I should have based on easy odds.

  5. This post and the first two comments were really touching. It’s amazing and sad how many of us have been shaken by fatal accidents. Lorie, I completely agree, that the danger on the road is not necessarily an SUV or any type of car in general, it’s the driver. I have severe anxiety issues when driving/riding as a passenger due to reckless drivers (and previous crashes that have impacted my life). Two years ago my Mom was driving out of a parking lot when an older guy in a Mercedes t-boned her. He was going so fast that he caused my Mom’s car to flip into the air, land on it’s roof and spin round and round. In a parking lot. She was wearing a seat belt and, amazingly, was fine. The worst amount of damage (aside from her car and her mental state) was that the shattered glass cut the new pair of jeans she was wearing. It absolutely shocks me how many people out there choose not to wear seat belts. And at the same time, choose not to recognize they’re in control of a very deadly weapon. I’m so sorry for all of you that have experienced a loss.

  6. As this subject hit very close to home with you, this journal may not be the appropriate place for a full airing of the topic.

    I’ll agree that wearing seatbelts and driving defensively are two of the smartest things we can do for all concerned.

    Speaking in general (not at all associated with Ginny’s situation), I believe that since crashes between mid/large size SUVs and cars DO increase the fatalities in the occupants of the car, that to acknowledge this as a fact is to admit that vehicle choice does have some influence on the survivablity of others IF the crash was the result of an error by the SUV driver or a situation beyond the control of either.

    And again, we have not touched on the effect of increased petroleum consumption on the staggering foreign trade deficit, the increasing climate disruption, air pollution, dependence on volatile oil producing nations, wars to secure oil resources, funding of terrorists by citizens of oil rich nations, etc.

    I realize that the new Rav4 with side curtains is recognized as very safe (thanks for the reference) and achieves much better than average for SUVs. I’ve chosen a different path for my family; 2 cars, both of which achieve over 50 mpg and both of which have at least 4 star ratings in every category. I mention this neither to brag nor to admonish, just to demonstrate that one can be safe themselves without potentially being a threat to someone else, while reducing their impact to the nation’s security, fiscal stability, environment, and energy resources.

    If you would prefer that we keep subjects here on the lighter side (or if this particular subject is just too much of a hot button), just say the word. This is your party, afterall, and I’m just a psuedo-philosophical social (observer) butterfly who wandered into the inner sanctum here 16 months ago on a whimsical Google hit.

  7. i get so fucking pissed when people roll their eyes if i ask them to put on their seat belts in the back seat of my car.


    because my mom taught me to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS wear one. and so i do! and so you’re right!

    driving is the most dangerous thing any of us ever does. no one seems to get that. there’s this band i love called operation cliff clavin, and they have a song called “cancer or car wreck?” basically saying, those are the two ways most people go. it’s sad.

    personally, i think cell phones, handsfuckinfree or not, should be banned in the car, always. $100 fine. do you really need to talk then? fuck, i do it now too, sometimes. but i shouldn’t. seriously. and i would gladly not do it if it was banned. fuckin pull off and have your stupid conversation about what kind of bread to get at the store.

    i sound more angry than i am.

  8. I got in a handful of accidents as a teenager and had several handfuls of speeding tickets by the time I got to college. I did a lot of really stupid things just because there wasn’t a parent there to stop me. I think some cities/ states are adopting new laws about moving the age at which a driver can drive alone up to something like 18. So, from age 16 to 18 the driver has to have a licensed adult in the car with them. Although, as a 16 year old I would have been PISSED if I couldn’t take off in my car by myself, now I think that’s a really good idea. You learn the most through experience, and it helps to have people with more experience than you along for the ride.

    Also, I’ve been driving my dad’s truck around for a couple of months, while I give my super-old Acura Integra a break. I feel much safer in the truck because I can see more and I’m not so low to the ground. I’m a much more confident driver in that truck because other people can see me better. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am safer.

  9. Yes, in space. Also, at a boys’ private school in a very posh neighborhood. (My mom had connections; she worked at the DMV.) Didn’t you guys have the rickety old simulators with the gear shifter way up to the right of the steering wheel, opposite the wipers, with the gas and brake pedals that went way to the floor before the simulator reacted? I mean, they were pieces of shit. I never ever once took a simulator test without failing it. So, yeah. Way to teach a kid how to drive.

  10. We had behind the wheel and simulator as well. I never took a simulator test without failing either since they are the way Sandy described.

  11. okay. I got a class taught by an old man who wore the same three pair of pants in rotation – all of them with odd stains on his fly.

    Oh, I think we watched a video. That’s it. No imulator, no driving, no nuthin’; the school couldn’t afford to maintaing the car.

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