Friday, November 16, 2007

Scared Safe

DS#2 is at that age--he's eligible to get his license. So, as part of the preparation for that momentous event, he and I went to a "Drive Smart, Stay Safe" driving class given by the California Highway Patrol through the local adult school.

Two officers gave the class, dressed in uniform. I noticed a bit of black peeping out under the "v" of the female officer's uniform shirt, but over her white cotton t-shirt. Then it dawned on me: she was wearing a bullet-proof vest. The male officer's vest didn't show, but I could see the outline under his shirt as well.

Both were carrying guns, as well as their radios, handcuffs, keys, spray, and whatever else was on their utility belts. In fact, the belt looked like it weighed more than the female officer did.

Two fully-armed, fully-prepared officers in a classroom of middle-class students and their parents on a Wednesday night in suburbia, just blocks from a plaza containing several high-end stores. It seemed incongruous.

The class was designed to convince the teens that they are not invincible when they get behind a wheel of a car. I'm not sure it worked for them. The mothers in the class, including yours truly, were ready to tell our kids that maybe driving isn't such a good idea after all. Not that any child of mine make the same errors in judgment that cost the teens in the video their lives, but there are other people out there who would. And who would endanger my kid.

The video/DVD the officers showed were scenes from real accidents. The people lying with their bodies at impossible angles were not dummies. The blood on the windshields was not dyed sugar syrup. This was not ER or CSI. These people were really, truly dead. Their parents, their brothers and sisters, their friends, were really left behind to deal with the mess. I had to keep reminding myself and DS#2 of that, otherwise the scenes would be too easy to dismiss.

After the video, the officers talked about what causes most accidents and what violations they give the most tickets for. They talked about how they don't need a warrant to search your car or even a reason to pull you over--they can do a "vehicle inspection." And, come the holiday season, all 25 law-enforcement agencies throughout the Bay Area will be working to keep unsafe drivers off the road.

The male officer had a local example as part of his presentation. He talked about how the mother of the girl who was killed arrived at the scene and screamed and screamed. The officers at the scene couldn't sleep at night because every time they closed their eyes, they heard that scream.

The officers talked about what happens in a crash, about the physical impact to the car and to your internal organs as they slam into your skeleton or the steering wheel. About seat belts. About why drivers under 18 are given provisional licenses and can't have passengers in the car (and soon they won't be able to use gadgets like cell phones, even in hands-free mode).

They discussed the fatal results of showing off, of peer pressure, and road rage. They talked about how important it is that parents model good driving skills. They urged us to have a plan of action when our kids find themselves in a situation where they shouldn't be driving--the maximum blood alcohol level for anyone under 21 is zero. They asked how many of us would pick up our kids if they had been drinking at a party. We all raised our hands. They asked how many of us would be pissed off. I raised my hand. But I'd rather be pissed off at my kid and have him alive than pissed off and grieved that he was dead.

The next step is driving lessons for DS#2. And, of course, he has plans once he gets his license. I just hope he remembers some of what he saw...