A couple of weekends ago, my grandson Paul, who wants to drive so bad he can taste it, went over to the Hutchings College and Career Academy parking lot for a “Roadeo” sponsored by the Macon Kiwanis Club. Apparently, my grandson is not the only teen who can taste his or her learner’s permit because there were more than 100 other teens just like him there.
What’s a “Roadeo”? While it’s fun and informative — from the spinning truck with dummies that get tossed out to show teens the kind of damage a rollover can do to the AT&T virtual reality tent (more on that later) — this was about saving their lives and maybe ours, too.
The Roadeo also taught teens a few things adults should know. How many adult drivers know about the blind spots on an 18-wheeler? How about recovering from a skid? From what I see out of my office window, some adults haven’t mastered parallel parking.
This kind of information is more important today than at any other time in the history of manned propulsion. Why? I’m an old relic. I grew up when cars were made of steel. My first accident, coming down a snow-covered mountain in California where I hit a Cadillac with big chrome bumpers, was no big deal. The driver got out of his car, looked at his bumper where there wasn’t a scratch, asked if I was OK — and I was — got back in his Caddy and headed off. No offense, but today’s cars can’t take that kind of punishment.
Cars are safer now, but they are also faster. My big, hulking, 5,000-pound Ford SUV can get on down the road faster than my 1968 Chevy Impala. And the same is true in 1968 as in 2015 — speed kills. The Roadeo tries to save lives, and here is why.
Teens do stupid things because they believe they can’t die. Let me separate the men from the boys for a moment. Men know their time on this planet is limited. Boys think they’re bulletproof. Boys overestimate their abilities to control a vehicle with little understanding of the laws of physics. When ego bucks the laws of physics, which one wins? Men know the answer, but boys find out the hard way if they survive. The Roadeo seeks to help them survive.
Girls are not immune. They just aren’t driven by testosterone, but instead by the need to be cute — not to boys, but to the other girls. They text like crazy — not to boys, that would be gauche — but to other girls. And they do it while driving. The AT&T virtual reality 360-degree demonstration with some out-of-this-world technology showed how taking your attention from driving to look at or answer a text for just a moment might be your last. This technology is realistic and I admit, a bit unnerving, but full of possibilities.
I know, some say texting is no different than tuning a radio. Trust me, it’s different. Talking on your cellphone while driving is different, too. Trust me.
On Thursday, I was driving home, and a black van was in my rearview mirror. The driver, a woman, was talking on her cellphone, and she was one of those I-talk-with-my-hands types. Last I checked, we only have two hands. In my rearview, I could see she was using one hand to hold her phone, the other to gesture. That didn’t leave a hand for the steering wheel. She did stop gesturing, after almost running off the road, but only long enough to correct her course. She returned to her conversation — if she ever left it — and her gesturing continued, too. Needless to say, I was relieved when she turned off and was not following me anymore. She obviously had not been to a Roadeo.
So why is this effort by Kiwanians more important now than ever before? Distracted driving is only going to get worse. I could cite statistics, but in your own experience, haven’t you seen drivers who are not paying attention? They are regularly running “been-red” signal lights (from yellow to red, most traffic signals take seven or more seconds to change). Everywhere we look, some driver is talking on the phone and not paying attention. We think driverless cars are a thing of the future? No, we see them every day.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at email@example.com. Tweet@crichard1020.