Most of us are born with a desire to make a difference, to leave a legacy. We educate ourselves; we reach out in a variety of ways, we build upon experiences that occur in our lives and careers. However, sometimes the very thing that affords us that opportunity is completely unplanned, even unwelcome. Such was the case with the collision Jim was involved in 15 months ago.
The challenges we've faced since that time have created in us a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of bicyclists and others who share the road with motor vehicles. As I have become more informed, it’s only natural to become more serious about advocating for change. There are numerous ways in which vulnerable road users can become safer and that we can all take greater responsibility for our actions behind the wheel! And, that’s where I’ve felt compelled to “speak up”.
In addition to this blog, I’ve reached out to anyone who will listen about the importance of bettering the conditions for road users in this area. I’ve been purposeful in connecting with a network of like-minded persons. Friends and community members have stepped up – speaking to others and making better choices about their own driving. Many are displaying our window decals and wristbands to help spread the word. I am more and more convinced that every single voice makes a difference in bringing about change! I’m exceedingly grateful for acquaintances who have come forward to help take what we’re doing to another level.
One particular incident had an especially deep impact on me. A friend’s son, a new driver, approached his mom in tears after reading my very first blog post. He told her that he thought every single teen driver should hear what I had to say! Furthermore, he invited me to be the very first guest speaker when Covid restrictions allowed his Scout troop to resume in-person meetings.
Statistically, 18-25- year-olds are involved in a greater number of crashes than any other age group. That being the case, they are the drivers who injure and kill the greatest percentage of others on the road. That's a sobering reality! Because of their age, they are less experienced drivers with fewer resources to call upon in the event of a difficult situation. Also, young people in that age group often tend to perceive themselves as especially quick thinking and fast acting, even “invincible”. (Incidentally, those perceptions are far more than what some would call “careless” or “arrogant”. It’s been proven scientifically that those feelings, along with a much lesser-developed since of impulse control, are how young brains are “wired”. It's not wrong or bad, it's simply an understanding that is vital to communicating with persons of that age.
Additionally, that generation has never lived in a world without the convenience and constant availability of cell phones. The concept of being tied to their phones goes far beyond what those of us who can at least remember life before cellular service can even imagine! It’s a legitimate dependence that requires a learned willingness to grasp when it’s important to put their phones aside, and then to do so. However, the majority of brand-new drivers haven’t yet developed unsafe driving practices. In fact, every one of the scouts snickered when I asked how many had been allowed to use their phones while driving under the supervision of a parent!
The boys were actually more open to my message than I’d anticipated. My first-hand description of life with a spinal-cord injury after Jim having been hit by a 17-year-old was hard to hear. As it ought to be! It illustrates in all-too-specific terms a consequence of unsafe driving that many young drivers have never even considered. And living in a community where a leading citizen and her dogs were recently killed, also by a 17-year-old driver, lends the message greater relevance.
Talking to those boys has had a profound effect on my thinking as an advocate. My personal “ah-ha” moment occurred as we were meeting together, and has served to refine my own perspective. What I had to say clearly resonated with my listeners: The situation is grim! Their age group is largely responsible! They can be the ones who are at the forefront of bringing about change!
As a life-long educator, I care deeply for young people. I value and appreciate the privilege it is to be able to invest my life in them. I see so much in today's youth that is admirable, and envision a future where their insights and influence will impact the world in profound, positive ways. They truly are our future!
I truly believe the majority of student drivers are ready to hear what I have to say. And if they become genuinely convinced of the importance of the message, I trust them to make wise choices. Their generation is poised to become the leaders in taking us to a safer tomorrow! They are, quite literally, " in the driver’s seat” to change the future! So, let’s empower them to do it and to do it well!
I am in the process of recruiting support from my community and making tangible plans for a concerted outreach to student drivers. Some exciting options are on the horizon! I’ll share details as things unfold, in hopes that you’ll be encouraged to find ways to do the same in your community.
I’d be grateful for any and all suggestions you might have! Until I get the glitches worked out of a comments section on this blog, please feel free to communicate via E-mail. (Barbara@VulnerableRoadUsersNM.com)
Changing the future one driver at a time!