(The Vancouver Sun, April 8, 2002)
Q: In light of the recent tragedies in the news involving street racing, Im worried sick about my 16 year old son behind the wheel. What can I do to make sure he doesnt drive like a maniac?
H.M., Delta, BC
Saleema and Teresa: Your letter represents the serious concerns of many parents weve spoken to in the last couple of weeks. It has been so difficult to even read about these losseswe cant imagine what the family and friends of the victims must be experiencing right now. Unfortunately, street racing has been around for years. But much like other issues, such as bullying and drinking and driving, it has come to the forefront as a result of tragedy. Street racing may be even more prevalent than we think, as it doesnt necessarily involve two or more cars. Young people (not to pick on themadults are guilty too) weve spoken to tell us that one driver may try to beat the clock in something known as The Quarter Mile in preparation for a race. Apparently 13.5 seconds is the time to beat. They also tell us that it is seen as cool to street race, and that males face a lot of pressure to participate. The fact that teens firmly believe they are immortal doesnt help either.
What were hoping is that we can learn from tragedy. Through heightened awareness and preventative education, we can help young people to resist peer pressure to drive recklessly and therefore prevent avoidable losses in the future. I (Saleema) remember when I was in high school, a drunk driver killed two boys as they walked home from school one day. From that point on, it was uncool at our school to drink and drive. In fact, we put enormous pressure on each other to select a designated driver at parties and to report those who didnt comply. We need to make it uncool to street race. We realize that this will not happen overnight, but awareness can start in the home. Here are some ideas you may want to try with your son (short of hiding in the back seat of the car):
- TALK ABOUT IT. Clip articles, watch the news, and discuss street racing with your son. Encourage him to imagine how the recent accidents have affected the families and friends of the victims.
- GIVE HIM A REALITY CHECK. Not that we are fans of scare tactics, but nothing can make something more real than seeing it right in front of you. Visit one of the accident sites with your son and read the notes and letters left by loved ones. Notice the screech marks on the road.
- SET GUIDELINES FOR SAFE DRIVING. Be clear about your expectations while your son is behind the wheel. You may want to set passenger restrictions (like those work, but at least hell feel guilty when he packs 9 people into the car!), and identify clear consequences if these expectations are not met.
- DO YOUR PART. If you chat up a storm on your cell phone, apply full make up, eat breakfast and search for that perfect song on your CD player while rolling through stop signs on the way to school (Wait a minute, we saw you yesterday!), why would your son do any different? Remember, hes watching you!
- TEACH YOUR SON TO LIE. Were kidding, but not really. Of course, your son needs to learn first how to be assertive to resist peer pressure to drive recklessly. He could use I statements such as I think driving like a maniac is stupid and Im not going to do it. He also needs to use refusal and avoidance skills to keep himself out of a dangerous situation. If a certain friend eggs him on to drive fast, your son needs to stop giving him rides. Similarly, your son should refuse to be the passenger of a reckless driver. This is where white lies come in, as he may need to use more drastic measures to make the driver stop if he is already in the car. For example, your son could tell his friend he feels sick and thinks hes going to throw up. You bet the driver will stop if he thinks his seats may get ruined! A teenage girl told us recently that she told her street racing boyfriend that she had her period and had to change her tamponhe couldnt get her out of the car fast enough! Remind your son that there is enormous strength in numbers. If groups of peers take a stand and support each other, street racers will be outnumbered.
Now its your turn. What do you think? Any ideas as to how we can make street racing uncool? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.