Every day at lunch, I sit with a handful of people. We laugh and talk the entire time, like any other group of old friends. Just the other day, however, something was wrong. We were quiet. There had been an accident. My friend’s car had been hit on the highway, rolled, and totaled. She is only a little bit sore, thankfully, but I know she is still scared. This actually happened within the last week, so I have spent the last few days thinking about how close she came to not coming back to sit and laugh with the rest of us. I have also remembered that this is not the first case of my friends being hit severely enough to wreck a car. One of us died in third grade, and too many more have nearly died since. So why does it feel like we are dropping like flies? When adults text and drive, they often find themselves in rush hour fender-benders or other less disastrous circumstances compared to the horrors teens end up in. Maybe adults can get away with it because they have experience to lean on. It’s a shame that experience seems to be invisible, because all we see when our parents text and drive is our role model texting while driving and thinking nothing of it. Now that we are old enough, a few of us even take it up a notch with social media because that is what adults and the people on tv do. A week ago, I thought this was the universal source of blame for teen accidents. Today, on the other hand, I have amended my thoughts. My friend who was just hit is among the most responsible, level headed students our school could ask for. She simply would not touch a phone while driving. She was hit because an oncoming driver failed to turn his headlights on at night while driving in the left-hand lane. With this in mind, my revised theory for teens is this: ignore distractions while driving and know your surroundings. This still may no work to prevent every accident, but it is progress. I myself have almost been hit a few times, but I have found that turning down the music when I am in a dangerous intersection and pretending my phone does not exist has helped me -maybe saved me- on several occasions. Those tricks are old news, though. The new problem I think we all overlook is the fact that, frankly, teens lack situational awareness. What makes the entire mess worse is that instead of learning to pay better attention to the world, my classmates have cars that brake for them and stay in their lanes autonomously. How are people going to learn to pay attention if they never have to pay attention? Ideally, I just want all teens to learn to be aware of the world. I want everyone to be independent of phones and interact in person. If we can learn to be around each other, maybe we can learn to drive around each other, too. I want us to wake up from this nightmare and just live.
I mention this a bit in my work, but this cause hit close to home. I can think of a few accidents recently that have left my friends car less and terrified, and no one should have that. Living in a highway-dominated area means stakes are high.