To the South Sound Class of 2012:
Your commencement speakers are offering you sage and farsighted advice about your potential, about the adversities and triumphs of a life well lived. Our message is strictly shortsighted: Please, stay alive and uninjured for the next few weeks.
The month of June frequently brings a familiar and tragic genre of headline. Such as:
Teen dies in crash night of graduation
Student fatally injured on highway after party
New grad killed in midnight rollover
Here’s the worst such headline so far this month:
Death toll rises to 4 in Ohio pre-graduation crash
You haven’t lost one of your own classmates to a senseless graduation-season car crash, though many of your predecessors have. Let’s hope your luck holds. Better yet, let’s talk about how to make your luck hold.
Nothing personal, grads, but most of you are pretty much like your parents were at the same age: bad drivers.
You have good eyes and good reflexes. What you don’t have yet is enough respect for the laws of physics. We’re talking mass multiplied by velocity, a number that adds up quickly when a steel-shelled 3,000-pound object slams into another steel-shelled 3,000-pound object at 35 or 40 mph.
Let’s talk anatomy, too. In high-energy crashes, humans turn out to be squishy creatures with fragile spinal cords and brains. Basically, jellyfish with air bags.
You’ve proved you are bad drivers (as a group) because, for example, you do things such as texting or emailing while you are driving. Just last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a survey suggesting that nearly 60 percent of high school seniors can’t keep their fingers off the keypads when they’re behind the wheel.
The CDC has also found that you are less likely than older drivers to wear seat belts and more likely to speed and tailgate. You don’t handle night driving well. You have a very hard time watching the road if your friends are in the car with you. If you are male, you are nearly twice as crash-prone as your female classmates.
Teenage drivers get in four times as many crashes as older drivers, say the statistics.
Not that your parents and grandparents (statistically speaking) are all that great. Many older Americans are erratic, impulsive, drunk, incompetent, aggressive or reckless behind the wheel. It’s hard for most of you to recognize which oncoming drivers are most likely to kill you. You don’t have the radar for it yet; that develops through years of surviving scary near-misses.
Our shortsighted advice: Stay sober. On the road, don’t sweat the small stuff – assume that anything that can go wrong, sooner or later will.
At your age, you and your classmates are more likely to die in an automobile crash than any other way. That risk seems to spike in the season of graduation parties. Take care. The last thing anyone wants to see is the promise of a long, well-lived life lying broken at the side of the road.