Tag Archives: teenage drivers

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

David Loffredo is a longtime Westporter. He recently moved to the Fairfield Beach area. The roads are wider and straighter there — and he still has a 3rd daughter to teach how to drive. He writes:

They’re so cute when they’re young.

You remember all the firsts. That first swim lesson at the Y, or the first time they’re independent on the Compo playground. The first kindergarten bus ride, the first time playing on a team, or the first time up on stage. And on and on and on.

Good times. Fun times. Great memories. Rites of passage.

Then they grow up.

And sometime toward the end of middle school their older friends start getting their learner’s permits, and the inevitable “will you take me driving?” question echoes at the dinner table.

Will you take me driving? Those might be 5 of the scariest words ever uttered by someone I’d much rather take back to her first swim lesson.

But we do it. We all do it.

This is not David Loffredo and his daughter. But it could be.

Most of us head to the parking lot at Longshore, or Compo, or Staples. We drive in circles and look out for joggers. And we think okay, mission accomplished, on to driver’s ed after you turn 16, with their professional instructors and brightly colored official cars.

Except that’s not exactly how it works. What you’ll learn (or what you’ve already learned, brave souls who have gone before) is that you are responsible for a bunch of hours behind the wheel with your newly minted permit holder, in your car, on our roads.

So we do it. We all do it. White-knuckled and tightly buckled, we strap in shotgun, turn off the radio, and guide our apprehensive yet naively enthusiastic novices out into the wild. We take comfort that we’re not alone, as each year roughly 600 Westporters turn 16 and get their permits.

Let that sink in. There are 600 of us out there.

But really it’s not so bad. They drive the speed limit, or within a few miles of it. They come to a complete stop at stop signs. They slow down when the light turns yellow. They yield. They’re courteous. They don’t text or talk on the phone. In short, they actually follow the traffic laws most locals have long since ignored.

So – stop tailgating my kid. And everyone else’s kid.

Almost every time we go out driving — and it’s almost every day now — cars race up behind us. They flash their lights, toot their horns, weave in some feigned attempt at passing. I wonder who they are, and what could be so urgent. When I see a Jeep in the rearview mirror, I assume it’s a Staples kid only recently removed from this process who quickly forgets how intimidating it was. When I see a big SUV with a parent behind the wheel, I wonder how they’ll react when the kid in their back seat is sitting in their drivers’ seat.

So please: Ease up when you see a driver strictly following the rules of the road. Pay it forward if you have young kids. Pay it backwards if you’ve been through this already.

We all win, if these kids learn good habits from the start.

Riding Safely

Don’t drink and drive.

That “duh”-inducing advice has been drilled into teenagers’ heads ad nauseam.  From all indications, they listen.  Many do designate drivers.  They often refuse to get in the car with someone who’s been drinking.

But “many” and “often” are not “everyone” and “always.”  Teenagers are human beings.  We all screw up.

Westport CT Safe RidesTomorrow, Westport inaugurates a “Safe Rides” program.  Every Saturday, from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., high school students can call 203-383-9492.  Dispatchers, navigators and  drivers — working out of donated space at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, with an adult supervisor — will give callers safe, confidential rides home.

Nearly 100 Staples students, and several adults, have been trained to run the program.  It is a testament to Alex Dulin, a junior who worked tirelessly since moving to Westport last fall to make it happen.

Safe Rides is not a new concept.  There are programs nationwide, as far away as Alex’s home town of Mercer Island, Washington and as close as Darien.

Westport had one of the first, in the 1980s.  It ended after deteriorating into a free taxi service.

Like any good idea, it has detractors.  Some people say “Safe Rides” implies acceptance of teenage drinking — even encourages it by providing free transportation to drinkers.

But as 44-year-old, abstinence-education-only grandmother Sarah Palin proves, hoping teenagers act a certain way does not always ensure they will.

(There is another scenario:  “Safe Rides” could be used by a teen babysitter uncomfortable with being driven home by a parent who had too many cocktails.  Yep, that happens too.)

Ultimately, every argument against “Safe Rides” fails because of this:  If it saves 1 life, it is worth it.

We’ll never know whose life was saved — whether it was a drunk driver, a passenger, or an innocent person in the other lane.

Nor will we know if the life saved was your child’s.  Or your own.

So write this number down:  203-383-9492.  Give it to every teenager you know.

And thank Alex Dulin and her crew of volunteers for looking out for all of us.

(For more information, contact: saferidesofwestport@gmail.com).

Driving Teens Crazy

Don’t drive while texting.  Don’t drive while shuffling your iPod.  Don’t drive while eating dinner.

Duh.

That don’t-kill-yourself-or-others advice is plastered throughout Staples  this month, on eye-catching posters created by the school’s energetic and effective Teen Awareness Group.

Raising awareness of good driving habits is great — who could be against it?  But TAG is missing another important audience:  their parents.

Chatting on cell phones; putting on makeup; roaring through already-red lights; weaving in and out of traffic; cutting off drivers entering your lane — teenagers don’t invent these things.

They’ve got to be carefully taught.

And as much as we like to preach good driving habits, it’s our practices that youngsters follow.

Kids learn how to drive long before they’re 16.  They learn when they’re 12, 10, even 5.  They learn from the passenger seat, the back seat — even the booster seat.

Thanks, TAG, for all you do to keep young drivers safe.  If you’ve got time, start working on us old folks.

Teen Awareness group poster - Staples HS