Dear Impatient Commuters of the Greater Denver Metro Area,
Hi. I’m a teen driver. I am three times more likely to kill you and your passengers than the average driver. I have been proven to underestimate hazardous situations, and to be slow to react when hazardous situations arise. Basically, I’m your worst nightmare. But that’s not my intention. In fact, I’m here to quote, in all seriousness, one of the great bands of the ‘70s and ask, "Why can’t we be friends?"
I don’t even have my license yet. I have my permit, which means I cannot drive anywhere without a licensed adult in the passenger seat, hopefully ready to perform damage control if I turn the steering wheel the wrong way or confuse the gas pedal with the brake. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s very possible. My dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that plays a critical role in decision making, problem solving, and understanding consequences of my actions—will not be fully developed for another five years. Minimum. Unfortunately, three days spent in a stuffy drivers ed classroom struggling to stay awake through twenty-year-old PSA videos don’t do much to change that.
But here’s the thing. I know the statistics, and I am not interested in becoming one of them. There is a lawless, bellicose group of teen drivers out there who really should not be driving. But there is always a lawless group of teenagers out there doing something they shouldn’t be, and it is unfair to judge a whole demographic by the troublemakers. I don’t drink, smoke, carry on phone conversations, text, or apply mascara while driving. And I know I’m not the only careful one.
Cautious or not, there are still over 150,000 drivers in the state of Colorado hitting the highways with underdeveloped brains, because it’s convenient for adults, and also because the driving age has been 16 forever and everyone, myself included, would freak out if it was raised, no matter how noble the reasoning.
It does not do a man well to worry over all the things that might happen to him. Your odds of getting struck by lightning are one in 10,000. Your odds of having quadruplets are one in 729,000. Your odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 83. These are facts of life. But smart people do not walk to the middle of an open field in an electrical storm and hold a metal golf club above their heads. So why isn’t driving treated with the same mix of common sense and caution?
If your wife is giving birth in the bed of your pickup truck, I suppose the following does not apply to you, but everyone else, please listen up. I’m a teen driver trying to buck the stereotype, so please cut me some slack. You know my reaction time is slower, so it doesn’t do anyone much good when I am amicably driving the speed limit and you angrily swerve around me. When I am wary about making a right turn on red because the street is busy or the lanes are narrow, please refrain from honking. It psyches me out. Just keep in mind that a car crash would make you much later for work than a traffic signal would. If and when your kids start driving someday, I would imagine you would want them to be careful. I know that’s what my parents want, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Driver’s Education taught me that it’s a dog eat dog world out there. And it is. Cars are dangerous. That’s not my fault, or your fault, or anybody’s fault really. All that any of us can do is be aware, empathetic, and try to make good choices. You have every right to expect that from me and my fellow teen drivers, because that is what we expect of you.