Within, the past year we have suffered the loss of nine teenagers in car wrecks. That is more than the Israelis have lost the first two days in Gaza, more than our National Guard unit lost in a year in Iraq. It is a time of great sadness here. And great denial. Families, schools and churches are aching. Everyone seems helpless. I hope I don’t add to the pain. But we are not helpless and it has to stop.
While I am intimately associated with a fatal crash from 2005, I will focus on the three fatal crashes of 2008. But it is an old problem.
Four children burned up in a car wrapped around a tree off Ky. 92 last winter. The cause? Too much speed for conditions. 3 a.m. What were they doing out at that hour? Most fatal crashes occur after midnight and before 6 a.m.
Four children killed in a head-on collision with a coal truck. In a hurry to get to the local Christmas parade. They hit black ice. Early afternoon. Too fast for conditions.
Three girls, all beautiful, in a VW Jetta passing a coal truck on a mountain road. They hit a utility truck head on. The Jetta rolled. One girl may lose her arm. One died at the scene. Too much speed for conditions. 4:30 p.m. right after the ACT.
A young man I have helped raise commanded two of those in the second wreck in ROTC.
Great kids. I will always remember the pink nail polish on one child’s beautiful little hands.
None of these children expected to die. None of their parents expected to bury their child. Everyone assumed that they would live a normal life. But driving, especially in the mountains, is life and death.
There are a lot of issues here. But the common denominators are speed, inexperience, and misjudgment. You can’t put on more police patrols and change these. It has to begin with the schools and the parents. We have to change our Driver’s Ed curriculum to reflect the life and death nature of driving, so common, we take it for granted.
I will never forget a short film I saw at Boys’ State a lifetime ago. Two young couples were out for a good time. They were drinking, though not all of ours were. Going too fast, they wrecked. Two died. One went to jail. I still remember that once-gorgeous blonde having a seizure in the roadway. I determined nothing like that would ever be my fault. And became more thoughtful.
My dad was also very diligent about where I was and who I was with. He refused to permit a couple of friendships and that kept me out of one bad wreck.
Young drivers have to be made to see themselves as what they are. Beginners. They have to understand that a driver has his passengers in his care; he is responsible. Parents need to talk to their children and in many cases need to veto some friends. It is hard to survive a friendship with a young driver who drives too fast. All the more if there is drinking or drugs involved. We must not assume that any teenager is mature enough to resist peer pressure.
The community needs to get involved in this! The schools and the local governments must make safety a priority. Our children are dying without cause. Little things like careless driving, or just crossing the road at night wearing camo are killing them.
We must teach and remind them all and ourselves that these lives we have are real. They are not a virtual video reality. Once the truck flips and your arm is ruined, you don’t just get a new screen. It’s real. Parents, teachers, friends, talk to the children while you still can.
Bill Hayes is a Middlesboro resident and attorney. Contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.