Sharing the Sorrow

A suburban mother’s role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after. ~Peter De Vries, American editor and novelist

We’ve got to find a better way of teaching our kids how to drive.

Last week, a 16-year-old honor student at our local high school was killed after apparently disregarding the railroad crossing gates on his way to school and being struck by an Amtrak train.

We can’t fault the train; no one was injured there, though it took them way longer to reach Chicago than they’d planned.

We can’t fault the weather; it was clear and sunny.

We can’t fault the state. Illinois has a graduated driver licensing program designed to reward young drivers with increasing privileges and responsibilities as they reach milestone ages, practice hours, and education.

It’s that practice hours thing that I think holds the answer, and it’s the parents/guardians who must take charge.

An Illinois teen needs to complete 50 hours of behind-the-wheel practice — 10 of which must be at night — with a responsible parent or guardian, along with a state-approved drivers education course.

Fifty hours might sound like a lot, but we know it’s not.

Not really.

When Domer was in high school, we easily racked up 50 hours of practice. I insisted he drive on sunny days, on snow, during rain and wind. I put him on rural roads, interstates, and busy city traffic. I had him drive at night, on weekends, before and after school.

All in an effort to simulate the varied experiences he could face once he got his license and was permitted to drive solo.

It’s paid off. He’s a good driver, careful and alert.

Since then, I’ve heard of parents who fudged on the practice hours. Some claimed they didn’t have time to practice driving with their kid. Others figured the kids were getting everything they needed to know at school. Some said their kids had been “driving” farm equipment for years. Others assumed their kids would take to driving like baby ducks to water and not need practice.

We might never know the circumstances surrounding this latest accident.

Was the young driver running late and in a hurry? Was he still half-asleep? Was he (horrors!) on a cell phone?

What we do know is, his life ended far too soon, and every parent can feel the agony.

Carefulness costs you nothing. Carelessness may cost you your life. ~Safety saying, circa early 1900s

18 thoughts on “Sharing the Sorrow

  1. Such a sad tragedy. You are right we need to put in those hours behind the wheel to help kids to be prepared to take on the responsibility of driving. I still remember when my dad taught me. Not only is it important for safety, it also a special time when parents can bond with their child while riding around those back roads.

    • Pat, I’m glad you mentioned how special it is to bond with a young adult while he/she is learning to drive. I have fond memories, too, of my dad teaching me to drive — and having to back up the entire length of a country road so he could prove to me that I wasn’t going to land us in a ditch!

  2. I am so sorry for the boy, his parents, and community. I totally agree. Practice, Practice, Practice. In all sorts of conditions. Besides the experience, it also helps parents become better passengers and teachers. I could not have imagined just driving with Cole a couple of times a week. By the time he held his license in hand I was only yelling, ” WE ARE GOING TO DIE” once a week. He’s a good driver. Too fast and a bit to angry sometimes but overall good. And of course, I always added (sometimes I still do) as he took off in my van or his car—“Honey, have FUN. But please make good choices because if anything happens to you my life is over too. I would share the same words with his friends (substituting their Moms) who even now will look at me and say I know, I know.

    • Kb, you are a wise and wonderful mom! I still remind Domer to be mindful while driving, and I still shudder at some of the horror stories he tells me of commuting in the Windy City. Fortunately, it’s a short commute! But yes, my life would be over if his were — we’re that close. I don’t know how this young man’s family is handling the tragedy, but I know the high school has counselors available for the kids. So sad.

  3. “What we do know is, his life ended far too soon, and every parent can feel the agony.”

    Yes Debbie, you are so right about that. Even me, not being a parent myself, can feel the agony and grief a parent must feel in losing a child. It has got to be the worst sorrow any parent can go through.

    When I was a kid preparing to get my drivers license, I had to first obtain and practice driving with what was called, “a learner’s permit”, a year before I could actually take the test to get an official license. I also had to take Driver’s ED in high school.

    My thoughts and prayers are with the parents and family of that 16-year old boy.

    Have a great Sunday, my friend!

    • Thank you so much, Ron. Yes, Illinois requires a learner’s permit and driver’s education, along with age and education milestones before a kid can get a license. I think the state does a good job with its requirements.

      Sadly, too many parents don’t give driving the importance it deserves. Yes, it’s hard work having to practice with a teen, especially when some teens and their parents find it a challenge to spend *any* time together (much less cooped up in a car!) But driving is something most of us will do all our lives, and it’s crucial we get our kids started off right.

      Did you get any of that bad weather from the Nor’Easter? Hope all’s well in your part of the world! xo

  4. And let’s not forget that modeling behavior is important, too. Parents who talk on their cell phones, or coast through stop signs, routinely drive much faster than the speed limit, or curse out other drivers are teaching their kids, too. Even if they put in 100 hours of practice with their son or daughter, if the kid sees there’s a gap between what their parent is saying and what they’re doing, it’s going to be hard for those lessons to take hold.

    • You are absolutely correct, Linda. I know I learned to have a “heavy foot” from my dad and try as I might, I’m afraid I passed some of that on to Domer. Illinois thankfully has banned cell phones while driving, but there are so many other distractions, from the GPS device to the radio to eating. I’ve even seen women putting on mascara(!!) while driving and both men and women reading behind the wheel. It’s a wonder more aren’t injured or killed.

  5. We’re not allowed to drive until we’re 17 over here and to be honest many of us (including me) think even that’s too young. But I believe the driving test is even more rigorous now than it was in my day, as it would have to be considering how much more crowded the roads are. It still doesn’t prevent far too many kids killing themselves or others on the roads though – truly tragic and such a waste.

    • You know, FF, I’m with you. Even 17 can seem too young. So many kids really aren’t able to handle driving as a teen, but they think they are (and their friends are driving so they want to fit in). The state prepares them as vigorously as it can, but so much is really up to the parents … and the kid. If they’re not mature enough to drive, they shouldn’t be behind the wheel, it’s as simple as that.

  6. I got my license when I was 16 years old. I think driving safety comes from the responsibility mindset of the young driver. If your kid is a hot head, has ADD or an emotional issues or is kind of a problem child, then considering postponing getting a license might be a good choice. A parent knows his child’s personality. But even after all that its something that might just happen anyway. What I did about my 6 children driving is to pray REAL hard.

    • I still cover Domer in prayer when I know he’s on the road, Tanya! I know he’s a good driver; it’s those others that I worry about. And even in the best cases, unexpected things can happen. I don’t know this family, but it must be awfully hard losing a child in this way.

  7. Thank God for keeping your son and my 6 kids safe…and may God continue to watch over them. God please help the parents who have lost children this way as so many have. In Jesus name.

  8. How sad. There’s no way to prepare them for every possible event but seems like crossing RR tracks would be high on the list. I feel so sad for his parents and friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.