Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Get Them Damn Teenagers Off My Road!

School days, my 12-year-old and I walk the half mile to his bus stop. Today, he wanted to know what it was with the lawmakers and teen drivers. First they wanted to raised the age to 17½. Today's papers cover the bill up for vote today that would provide a one-year loss of license and 50 hours of community service for kids caught speeding.

So, the lad thinking ahead to his vehicular future wanted to know what the august solons on Beacon Street have against kids.

Now, an irony here is that he had missed the story in today's paper about the bozo in Salem caught on his 13th DUI. Of course, he was driving with a suspended license, but driving still.

Granted, hormonally peaking teens have the highest accident rates. Yet, even my 12-year-old asked, "Well, how do they get the experience to drive well if they can't drive?"

I had to allow that we adults can be pretty simple-minded about law enforcement. We have the Tom Reilly lock-'em-up mentality. That's what we grew up hearing and that's what he has done as a career. Our attorney general looks in his tool chest, sees the hammer of retribution and bangs away on everything. (Check his campaign Web site to see how nearly every problem has a law-enforcement solution.)

That's understandable for him and in fact for many Boomers. We grew up with the idea that if you have strict enough laws and enforce them, criminals will be paralyzed with second and third thoughts instead of doing their evil.

Of course, we can see that this is so much hooey.

In Texas for example, the state is the number one murderer, far more deadly than any rampaging gang. Yet state executions do not lower murder rates. In fact, where there is capital punishment, murder rates tend to be considerably higher.

It is similar with major and minor crimes. People driven by passion to shoot or stab a loved one do not sit in the time-out chair contemplating possible consequences. Neither do junkies breaking into a house for stuff to sell for a fix. Similarly, teens at 15, 16 or 17, depending on the state, do not weigh theoretical fines or suspensions every time they merge onto 128.

You can be sure that the lock-'em-up or take-away-their-license folk fall back on the dummy's chant of "It's only common sense." That's the postulate of the intellectually lazy.

Whether it's anti-same-sex marriage or traffic laws, when you hear the common-sense argument, you know it's hype and crap. It means that they can't back it up, but they believe it and want you to take it as an axiom for their main argument.

So, if murdering convicted felons does not deter others from similar deeds, and putting harsher penalties on teens for traffic violations that adults pay for and walk away from, what helps?

Well, for teens, examples are good, no excellent. When peers, parents and police all speed, drive drunk, pass red lights and stop signs, and don't bother with such frills as turn signals, what's a teen to think?

Local Note: The new Boston police chief can do us all a favor by having the department mechanic make sure the turn signals work on those Crown Vics. If necessary, the cops can have a 35-second short course on how to use them. Show us by example, oh mighty defenders of public safety!

We don't need to heap it on kids. We have plenty of traffic laws and regulations. Police from the state down to municipalities and demand 100% safe driving from their officers. Then, they can go through the trouble of writing tickets for such common Bostonisms like trailing cars through red lights. When people see that they are serious, now that's deterrent.

Kids will do what they are taught and shown. Passing harder laws for them while adults scoff at existing ones is inane.

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rule by reason said...

Examining motivatons for proposed laws is always admirable and the reminder that we all serve as role models for our youth is equally laudable. There is, though, a sound reason for proposing a one year loss of license for a serious infraction by a new driver. Rates of maturity vary widely among teens. The relationship between maturity and highway safety is recognized by the insurance discounts given to high performing students. If a new driver does not yet have the control to avoid going more than ten miles over the speed limit, then that driver may need more time to develop the maturity that allows such control.

Ryan said...

Isn't it amazing that 12 year olds can think in higher terms than anyone on Beacon Hill?

I actually blogged about the licensing changes earlier because I think they're rediculous too. Sure, young drivers are bad drivers... but why? They're inexperienced. They'll be inexperienced at 17 1/2, 18 or whatever new age people want to change the driver's limit to.

If we want to make drivers safer, increase testing standards. Increase the amount of time people are required to be behind the wheel (what is it, 6 hours now?). Increase the amount of time people have a permit (give it to them at 15 1/2 and make them drive for a year before they can get their license).

These are all ideas worth considering, not increasing the limit which would be a real hardship to both the kids themselves and their families.

massmarrier said...

It's an embarrassment too that so many Boomers -- my generation -- have aged so badly. They run the General Court here and seem as lame as the WWII crowd.

This law-and-order junk without thinking it through does not speak well of them. As you note, a 12-year-old can see more clearly.

Then of course, there's a Bush fellow in Washington. He's of the generation that stopped the Vietnam War, and fought for the rights of Black, female and homosexual Americans. Where was he when we learned to do the right things? Oh, yes, in the corner with a spoon under his nose and a Bud in his hand.

Uncle said...

All this made me this about another connection--in reverse--between age and maturity. The armed forces love to get grunts young, because they never ask why and happily jump on grenades to save their comrades. They learn too late that they won't be in any condition for a dying speech. Those "damn teenagers" aren't 16 to 17. They're 17 to 19...the same age our genius legislators think is more responsible.

All you gain by raising minimum ages is a road full of older inexperienced drivers.

By the way, what's the upper limit? Ben Rothlisberger is 24, did not have the brains to wear a motorcycle helmet, and may yet prove to have a career-ending injury: You don't find out the long-term effects of skull injuries overnight. Why wasn't he any smarter than a 16 year old?