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Teens and Speeding a Dangerous Mix

Crash on River Bend Boulevard involving 3 high school juniors puts driver safety back in the spotlight

School was just letting out when we heard the sirens.

Cell phones and Facebook lit up, and within minutes everybody in our small town knew three 11th-grade girls had in a dogwood-lined neighborhood across from the school.

As stunned students stood nearby, a medical helicopter landed in the school parking lot to transport the one passenger who was ejected from the vehicle. A second passenger and the driver were cut out of the car and transported to other hospitals.

Parents, friends and fellow students — we held our breath as we waited to hear . They had multiple broken bones. They might not be dancing at prom in three weeks. But they would eventually return to normal activities — and to corroborate witness accounts making their way around town.

No, they weren't drinking and driving.

They weren't even texting and driving.

They were speeding.

And possibly racing.

Witnesses saw the girls traveling at a "very high rate of speed," in the wrong lane parallel to a second car going in the same direction on the 25-mph residential boulevard where little kids walk to and from school. As the three high-schoolers, all good students involved in multiple extracurricular activities, zoomed past the other car, they struck a median, flipped several times and slammed into a tree.

A group of parents, listening to the story unfold last week outside the tennis courts at , wondered how even good students make poor choices.

"What were they thinking?" one mom said.

Chances are, they weren't. And if we adults dig back far enough, we can remember how we felt on our own sunny afternoons three weeks before prom, when we, too, had steering wheels in the grips of our immortal, unthinking hands.

Parents now, we all wish for some guarantee that a similar — or worse — fate won't befall our own children. We think they are immune if they're on student council or captain of the tennis team. But, in fact, they're not exempt from the individuating that allows teen-agers to become adults. Part of what they do — part of what they are expected to do — is test the boundaries. We just pray the boundaries aren't the edges of a cliff.

It's only been a few days since the accident. We don't yet know whether the three girls were racing, or just horsing around, or exactly how fast they were going.

What we do know is that car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for teens, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

We also know that speed is a factor in more crashes involving teens than any other age group, that teen speeding increasingly involves trying to outpace another car, and racing may be on the rise because of racing video games, according to a National Young Driver Survey of 5,700 high-schoolers.

Parents all worry about their kids texting and driving. But what we may not realize is that speed can be even more of a danger. In a study of 2,300 students by SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Liberty Mutual Insurance, students who said they had a near-miss while driving were questioned about what they were doing at the time of the incident. Seventeen percent said they were changing music; 20 percent said they were talking to a passenger; 21 percent said they were texting; and 30 percent said they were speeding.

As these things go, our community is holding a little tighter this week. Worried parents ask each other what they should do when a child wants or needs to ride with a teen driver. What if that teen has a bad driving record? When do you trust? When do you nag?

Some of us are calling for legislators to raise the driving age from 16 to 18, when the frontal cortex is a little more apt to tell a teen-ager to slow down, turn down the radio, turn off the phone.

All of us are watching a little closer.

As my 19-year-old daughter ran out the door in a hurry the other day, she yelled out to me.

"Call me, Mom! Text me!"

"Okay," I said, as I turned back to what I was doing.

Suddenly, I jumped up and ran to the door.

"Go slow. Don't text and drive!" I called out.

Maybe this was the one time she was going to make a bad choice. Maybe she was going to say to herself, "Just this once." Maybe it was my calling out that stopped her.

Sally Burnell April 27, 2012 at 01:27 PM
While I am sure that there are plenty of safe and steady 16 year olds with driver's licenses, I am firmly of the belief that the driving age ought to be raised to 18. Of course, there are very mature 16 year olds and immature 18 year olds, but I think that the US ought to follow the lead of Europe and raise the driving age to 18. Every spring and summer, I read articles in newspapers and online about High School students being killed in automobile crashes and I grieve for their friends and family who have to bury someone so young and full of life, now gone forever. These young ladies, while good students, demonstrated that perhaps they lack the maturity to understand the dangers inherent in making a poor decision for a few moments of fun. The remainder of their spring and their entire summer is now gone as they face months of grueling recuperation from their injuries. Their immediate future means physical therapy and missing out on their prom and carefree summers on the beach. I just hope that their peers will take a moment to reflect on what this has cost them and will continue to cost them in the years to come, because as they grow older, those injuries WILL come back to haunt them. (I speak as one with firsthand experience in that respect.) Their families also face months of mounting medical bills and all I can hope is that their families have excellent health insurance. Let us hope that this is a sobering lesson to think before you make a poor decision behind the wheel.
Concerned Neighbor April 27, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Having two grown daughters and a son that doesn't drive yet, I feel for the girls and their families. This was a bad decision on the part of more than one driver. I live in the neighborhood. I have heard from my neighbors that both of these drivers are known by many to speed and run the stop signs within the neighborhood. How do we do more to inform parents of these problems? How do we get our police in the right place at the right time to get this under control before this type of accident happens? Do we as neighbors need to be bolder and inform other parents, that we are fearful of limb and life for ourselves and others when their children are driving in the neighborhood? I'm quite sure this is true of other neighborhoods.
Debra-Lynn Hook April 28, 2012 at 04:10 AM
I am just sitting here with news from an old family friend in Utah, whose 16-year-old daughter was killed in a one-car rollover on Monday. She was a good student and an upstanding citizen. She was on her way home from work, and crossed into the wrong lane, then over-corrected and rolled over. She was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected. When she was transported to the hospital, she was already in critical condition. The story of Malone Sheerhan, coupled with all the many stories I read while researching the piece that I wrote, lead me to agree with Sally. Study after study says the frontal cortex at age 16 is not developed enough for kids to make crucial decisions at critical moments. Meanwhile, I guess all we can do is be good role models and continue to recite to our children the laws and rules of safe driving. And pray.
Paul April 29, 2012 at 02:04 AM
I would love to see them catch and punish the occupants of the other car. Look for other teens who live in the neighborhood. Police probably don't have to look far.

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