Totaling my first car made me a better driver

Tuesday, February 3, 2015by  Sharlyn Petit

 It’s not breaking news. Teens are more likely to get in a crash than adults, especially within the first 18 months following their driving test. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the crash rate for 16- to 19-year-olds is about three times the rate for drivers 20 years and older.

I totaled my first car within the first nine months of having my license, and I’m a better driver for it.

On a rare clear day in Washington, I turned on my tunes, buckled up, and steered onto a country road I’d practiced driving on before. Less than two miles from my front door, going less than 35 miles per hour at the crest of a sunny hill, a Buick stopped abruptly in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and stopped just short of its chrome bumper.

I didn’t even have time to think close call before another car smashed my poor little Ford Focus right into that shiny chrome bumper. Both airbags deployed. Both ends of my car crumpled toward each other, green antifreeze leaked onto the roadway, and the smell of dusty airbags lingered (and continued to linger for days).

Thankfully, all involved were uninjured. I was convinced that none of it was my fault – an overconfident teen driver. The woman driving the third car in the pileup had a fresh stripe of mascara running up her forehead. The officer on scene even pointed that out.

In the end, I was cited for following too close to avoid a collision. The ticket was thrown out in court only because the officer didn’t show up for the hearing. When all was settled, I went back to the school bus and tennis shoes for a while, and the ticket remained visible to my insurance company for three years.

Fifteen years later, I’m conditioned to brake sooner, follow my own six-second rule (as opposed to the recommended four-second rule), and I’m overly cautious in sunny weather. No matter how much ridicule I get from my passengers, I’m comfortable with my grandma-like driving style.

Teens, there’s a reality to cruising the open road. You might not agree now, but you don’t drive as well as you think. You’re easily distracted. You lack experience. You underestimate danger. And, you’re probably following too closely. So, give it a few extra seconds. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand.…​

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Comments on this post

personTerry Smith02/04/2015 09:14 AM
Great article Shar! I think we can all, teens and more seasoned drivers, benefit from leaving a little extra room in front of us. It's so easy to be in a hurry and try to "push" the driver ahead of you to go faster, but how much time do you really save? Maybe a few seconds or so. It's not worth the risk in the long run.

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