Congressman Pete Olson

Representing the 22nd District of Texas

Protecting our kids behind the wheel

October 22, 2015
Op-Ed


Protecting our kids behind the wheel
Rep. Pete Olson 10/22/2015 10:55 am

As a parent of two teenage drivers, I know that kids think they’re invincible. They have grown up in a technology driven world that provides many distractions, especially when they are behind the wheel of a car. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenage drivers in the United States. This week is National Teen Driver Safety week, which provides an important opportunity to have a discussion with our kids about safe driving and why it’s important to turn off the phone while driving.

The first step to protecting our teens is by setting a good example. We parents grew up in an age where seatbelt safety wasn’t promoted and seatbelt laws weren’t enforced. I learned the importance of seatbelt safety in the most devastating way possible – by losing my first wife, Ellen. Twenty five years ago, before seat belt campaigns were in full force; Ellen and I were in a tragic car crash. Of the five people involved in this crash, I was the only one wearing a seatbelt, and I was the only survivor. Wearing seatbelts saves lives, and I tell my kids that every day before they hit the roads.

Mothers and fathers are the first and most important teachers in our children’s lives. They look to us – their parents – as examples of how to behave. The same applies to driving. If we as parents practice bad driving habits such as texting, eating or talking on the phone, our kids will think it’s okay. We must serve as role models to our children by putting down the phone, turning down the radio and keeping our attention on the road. This example goes a long way to ensuring that our children practice good, safe driving habits.

It’s also equally important for drivers to slow down and follow the speed limits. According to NHTSA, speeding is a contributing factor in roughly a third of all teen traffic fatalities nationally. In our Houston traffic, slowing down and practicing patience on an open highway is difficult, but encouraging our teens to slow down will no doubt save lives.

Most critically, sit down with your teen drivers and talk to them about the dangers of drinking and driving. We assume our kids know the dangers, but reality tells us that’s just not true. That’s why we must sit down with new drivers to discuss the dangers of driving under the influence or getting in the car with someone who has been drinking. Drunk driving is never worth the risk.

By taking a few simple steps, we can save the lives of teens all across America and make the roads safer for all drivers. As parents, we have a sacred obligation to raise responsible drivers. Let’s encourage our teens to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Our kids are our future – we can’t afford to lose another teen to reckless driving.