Adventures in Teen Driving: Walk This Way

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Aug 17 2015 / By Kathy Bernstein Harris

Adventures in Teen Driving: Walk This Way

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the perils of being a pedestrian in city with plenty of heavy traffic, so Declan’s been getting some extra lessons about keeping an eye out for those on foot. This is one of those times he doesn’t really want to be the kid of a parent who spends every day immersed in traffic safety issues.

In other words, for the past few weeks, I’ve been “pointy finger lady” in the front seat saying things like, “Watch out for that guy – he’s got his headphones on and isn’t paying any attention.” Or, “Give that construction worker a little more room – he shouldn’t have to worry that you’re going to run him down.”

Why the sudden concern for the people on the side of the road? Well, a couple of things have come to my attention.

My family had the pleasure of vacationing in Aruba (One Happy Island!) this summer. We had a fantastic time enjoying the sun and exploring the island. As we ventured out, I quickly learned that Aruba takes its traffic safety seriously. I saw several signs on the side of the road that let me know the country averages less than 10 traffic fatalities annually. There are very few traffic lights. They employ round-a-bouts to control the flow of traffic. As such, people— mostly carefree vacationers—cross the roads at crosswalks along busy roads. And guess what? Drivers stop to let them pass—and they’re patient about it. Amazingly, no one dies.

Back home in the States, it’s another story. I’ve recently learned that pedestrian deaths are slowly on the rise in our country. One pedestrian is killed every two hours in the U.S. and one pedestrian is seriously injured every seven minutes. And it’s not just the guy crossing against the light. The victims are cops, construction workers, power walkers—people who are safely on the sidewalk when they’re struck by a driver who jumps the curb.

I want Declan to know that being a safe, responsible driver is not only knowing and anticipating what other drivers are going to do, but recognizing potential threats that aren’t on the road, too. When Declan first started learning to drive, Dan and I talked a lot about scanning the roads. Now, we’ve expanded the scope to scanning the crosswalks, sidewalks and shoulders of roads. We always tell Declan that he’s in charge of a piece of metal weighing thousands of pounds. It’s part of his job as a driver to watch out for others, especially those who are more vulnerable.

Pedestrian safety hits close to home for my family. Almost 23 years ago, my brother, Michael, was killed jumping out of the way of a car coming at him. The sadness and loss my family has experienced is beyond the message of this blog. I only share this as I think of the driver who caused his death. He’s had to live knowing his actions took the life of another. I can’t begin to understand how that impacts him. And I never want either of my kids to experience the same.

To all my friends out there teaching their kids to drive, please add “pedestrian” to your lesson plan. For my friends whose kids have been cruising on their own for a bit, do a quick check-in. Jump in the car, go for a ride, point out the pedestrians and have the conversation. Make sure your teen knows that pedestrians are part of the traffic mix, too.

While we’re at it, everyone—teens and adults—need think about what we’re doing when we find ourselves on the other side of the wheel. It all goes back to the idea of the “driving community.” Let’s expand that to the “traffic community.” Whether we’re drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists…unicyclists, for all the hipsters out there…we should always be aware of our surroundings and look out for the other guy. Everybody shares responsibility for safety on our roads.

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