A former cop’s thoughts on defensive driving tips for teens

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One day when I was fourteen years old, I slid into the passenger seat of my mother’s Ford station wagon for a routine trip to Publix. “Put your seatbelt on,” she told me as she started the car. I complied, but complained that it was uncomfortable. “You just put that seatbelt on, mister,” she ordered.

Three minutes later, our car was T-boned on my side by a driver who later told a police officer she’d been daydreaming. The seatbelt saved my life. I walked away from our mangled car with only a minor headache.

FACT: In a car crash, a person not wearing a seatbelt will be injured or killed. Often, they are ejected from the car, hit their head on the pavement, and die. Wear your seatbelt, and make sure everyone in the car does too. An unbelted passenger becomes a projectile in a crash and their body can injure or kill as they go through the windshield. At the very least, you’ll be ticketed by a police officer who spots you unbuckled.

Driving is the most dangerous thing you’ll do on a daily basis, unless you become an astronaut or Green Beret. Crashes kill more teenagers than anything else, and teens crash more than any other age group. Many teenagers take outrageous risks because they feel immortal. Things like speeding, weaving in and out of cars on U.S. 1, and flooring it as soon as the traffic light turns green. Those things will get you killed in Miami, one of the country’s most treacherous cities for drivers.

Here are a few important tips for teenagers (and their parents) that safe, defensive drivers use on the roads:

  • Speed kills. This sounds hokey but it’s true. Cops have a saying “Slow is Pro.” Follow speed limits. If you can stop in time, you can prevent a rear-end collision or avoid a car about to hit you. And speeding tickets are very expensive.
  • Stay back. Tailgating (following the car ahead of you too closely) is the primary cause of rear end collisions. The driver in the rear is ticketed nearly every time.
  • Stay off your phone. Seriously.
  • Your brake is your best friend in the car. Whenever you’re uncertain while driving, slow down. In an emergency (such as a car suddenly pulling in front of you), DO NOT SWERVE!  Use your brake. It’s better to hit an object while slowing down than to swerve into an oncoming car or plow into a tree at full speed. 
  • Lastly, a word on being pulled over by a police officer. After you’ve pulled over in a safe place (parking lot, road shoulder) lower all windows in the car. Officers need to see everyone in the car for their safety. Present your driver’s license, car registration and proof of auto insurance. Don’t argue with the officer; you’re not going to win the argument anyway. Keep your hands on the steering wheel and don’t make any sudden movements. We’re trained to watch people’s hands because “hands kill.”

Christopher Pearson is a former police officer and now teaches Miami teenagers how to drive defensively and courteously. He can be reached at 305-972-3850.


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