Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Teenagers are trying to kill you!

Murderous urchin on the loose!Just in time for me to renew my driver's license, the Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise is running a hard-hitting special series on how teenagers drive too damn fast.

Now, I probably wouldn't normally make a post about something as trivial as this. It's really better suited to a response to their blog post. However, I still seem to be blacklisted from the S&E's blog so the post goes here.

The question the "Twin Cities Blog" is concerned about is "What do you think can be done to slow down young drivers?".

My never-posted answer in a nutshell was that the same things that slow down older drivers slow down young drivers. Training, signage, and enforcement. What doesn't slow down young drivers is treating them as a distinct group to be demonized for speeding when everyone you see on the road is doing the same thing. That's pretty controversial, I know.

Teenagers do tend to speed more than older drivers. That's a fact, but it's hardly the whole story. Everyone speeds. You speed, I speed, even my grandparents speed. Speeding is virtually required if you're going to get on a highway and not cause an accident. Driving 45 mph on Route 2 is going to cause more problems than driving 65 will.

It's not the speed that kills (despite the shocktacular "Speed Kills" headline), it's the inexperience. Teenagers have faster reaction times than older people, so are actually better able to handle the speed. What they lack is the experience required to deal with the unexpected, and the wisdom to not engage in behaviors that are going to get them in trouble. The only way to get that wisdom and experience, like it or not, is to get out on the road.

Now, why will demonizing teens as a group do nothing? Because that's the way it has always worked. Teenagers aren't stupid. They know that everyone else is speeding too. When you introduce a made-up problem like "teen speeding" they know you're ignoring the broader problem of everyone speeding. Understandably, they then tune you out.

Focusing on speeding is also a bit absurd in itself. Speeding is only relative to arbitrarily-set speed limits. It's a handy way to subconsciously characterize those who speed as criminals. The real issue is accidents, and there are a lot of good ways to reduce accidents. How about fixing the damn roads, adding more streetlights, providing proper drainage systems, and so forth? Every time I drive on Route 2 in the rain I feel like I'm dancing with death.

Of course, these are expensive problems to solve. They might require some degree of sacrifice on our part, and possibly even tax money (gasp!).

It's much easier just to blame teenagers for driving too fast. Too bad that's not the real problem.

Stay tuned for next week's Sentinel and Enterprise question: "What do you think can be done to keep women from talking too much?"

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