“Leave sooner, drive slower, live longer.”


“The thing that unites all human beings regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that deep down inside, we all believe we are above average drivers.”

-Dave Barry

On Wednesday of this week SAFE Delaware launched its ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ campaign that attempts to raise awareness about impaired driving, urges people to report impaired driving when they see it, and encourages friends and family members to seek help for those with drug or alcohol problems before they get behind the wheel.

SAFE Delaware, led by the Delaware General Health District through the excellent work of Jackie Bain, is a coalition of agencies that seek to maximize resources and reduce traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities throughout the county, as well as addressing passenger safety, bicycle safety and preventing injury from falls.

Though the event this week was aimed at reducing instances of drivers getting behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or an impairing drug, its timing at the beginning of the school year also gives us the opportunity to address safety issues that surround teen drivers who suddenly find themselves behind the wheel more often, and in more crowded and congested settings.

As I said at the news conference, I have been involved in juvenile justice in this county as a law clerk, prosecutor, magistrate and now judge for nineteen years now. In that time, I can recall only one calendar year in which we went a full twelve months without a teen driver being involved in a fatal accident somewhere in the county. These are our children, neighbors and friends. This is our motivation to continue working and educating in this area.

So, if you know a teen driver (or if you are one), here are a few nuggets from years of watching trends and presiding over close to 12,000 traffic cases:

Slow Down: Speed and weather are a major factor in many crashes, and the best way to handle bad weather is to slow down. Driving a little faster is only going to save you a few minutes. Driving slower may save your life. Driving is not a competition sport. Save you desire to get ahead of the next guy for track, your GPA or the chess club. Back Off: We are a tailgating society.

Watch the gaps between cars the next time you’re on the highway. People are nearly always riding the back bumper of the car in front of them even at highway speeds. At 60 MPH, you’re traveling 88 feet every second. That means at highway speeds it takes only three seconds to go the length of a football field. If you’re right on the back bumper of the car in front of you, you won’t even have time to react, not to mention stop, before hitting it. Leaving more room gives you more reaction time to avoid those crashes.

Put the Phone Down: This seems obvious, of course, but it’s a huge problem. Looking at your phone means that you’re not looking at the road. It means that your reaction time is delayed by however long your eyes are on the device, and at the pace of a football field every three seconds, that’s the difference between safety and a bad crash. Avoid other distractions too- radios, conversations with passengers, iPods, a dropped water bottle, even bugs in the car, are frequently the cause of distraction related crashes.

Double it All in Bad Weather: Ice and snow mean that your car will take more time to turn, more time to react, more time to grip the road and more time to stop. Slowing down and allowing more space between cars will help buy you that extra time and avoid crashes.

Avoid the Wave: If you’re crossing multiple lanes of traffic and the person in the nearest lane to you stops and waves you to go, remember that the people coming in the farther lane don’t have any idea that the person in the closest lane has done that. Unless the person in the far lane has come to a stop too, don’t assume that they’re going to. In general, don’t make assumptions about what other people are going to do- drive cautiously.

Impairments Kill: It’s not just alcohol. It’s not just drugs. Prescription medications can cause driving impairment. Drowsiness can be deadly. If you’re not fully alert and in control, then you should hand the keys to someone who is. Your parents would rather get a call about you needing a ride home than a knock on the door from a police officer.

David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.