To Mama, With Love, Paris
Dear Mama, For all the good you have instilled in me, you never taught me safe driving habits. Though I’m old enough to take full responsibility for my actions, I never had a chance. I was a backseat child, watching the world from the valley of the driver and passenger seats. There you were, one hand on the wheel, one hand holding your favorite rosy pink lipstick tube, trying to swipe at your lips every chance we slowed. You were a pro. Truly a woman who did it all. Who wrangled three children around, to and fro football practices and guitar lessons. The rolling stops, the soda and sandwich in one hand, the constant glances down at your cell phone-that was your definition of the driving. I wonder why you wouldn’t let me go to the mailbox down the street alone, yet felt comfortable with me in the car as you tapped away at your phone. Well Mama, no more. No more will I send texts at stoplights or fiddle with the skip button on my phone. No more will I use the excuse of “I’m running late” as a reason to speed down the streets as my hands search around for my apron, tossed carelessly somewhere in the backseat. Mama, here’s what I propose we do. Before we can successfully re-educate motorists, we need to redefine what driving looks like in the modern world. The average person in the U.S. today leads a life reliant on vehicle transportation, and such transportation has become an extension of the driver, reflective of their lifestyle. It’s safe to say that today, we are all commuters. Yet that can no longer be a viable excuse for our distractedness. We all have texts to send, emails to read, and power cords to reach lying on the car floor of the passenger side. To combat our bad behaviors, what if everytime we started to drive and we tried to unlock the phone – and many of our smartphones know when we do that now, Mama – an alert was sent notifying our local law enforcement. Repeated alerts would issue into fines, or mandatory driving lessons meant to address this problem. Insurance could have access to this information, potentially increasing rates for risky behavior and rewarding those with a clean record every six months. I know you’d scoff at the idea, Mama. Say it’s unnecessary and unrealistic. But by doing so you normalize this behavior and contribute to the problem. We have to get strict. We have to make an example. To truly put an end to distracted driving, we must work on prevention. School curriculums should incorporate programs aimed at teaching children to be responsible in and out of the vehicle. Five year olds should be attributing a phone in a car as “bad” the same way children’s interactive shows like Dora the Explorer would instill problem solving and exploration. By the time children reach the age for a learner’s permit and aided driving lessons, parents should be required to sit in with their child for at least one session in which the driving instructor can both critique the parent’s driving-to remind students that their parents are not perfect at driving-and have the student see mistakes commonly made by adults. We need to mend the disconnect between dangerous driving and the word “I”. Mama, you are a dangerous driver. And so am I. And so is the man in the car next to me. But maybe…maybe not my child. Or his. Or theirs. Love, Paris
A letter written to my mother which examines the relationship between how parents drive and the habits children will pick up as a result of it.