In the early hours on July 13 in DeKalb County, a 14-year-old girl took the keys to a Cadillac Deville and with five children went on a fatal joy-ride. The underage girl lost control of the vehicle and slammed into a telephone pole. One passenger, a 14-year-old boy, died on the scene.
For me, growing up in California, the automobile has always been more than just means for transportation. I took driver's education in high school and couldn't wait for the day I turned 16. As good of a driver as I am now, I flunked my first driver's test. Two weeks later, I passed the exam. Two months later, I rolled my first car in a ditch.
I know this idea may not make a lot of parents who have been ferrying their children around for 16 years happy. But I can't read another story about teen drivers involved in another fatal accident without saying my piece.
In Georgia, the law states that drivers between ages of 16 and 18 can obtain a class D license. With that license, the driver is not permitted to drive between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. For the first six months, the only passengers allowed are immediate family members or passengers 21 years of age or older. While that's a start, it still doesn't address the problem.
The federal government should raise the national driving age to 18. We've had enough of this idea that 16-year-old children are capable of driving a car on the road. Over and over again we see inexperienced drivers in accidents. What makes it worse is that teens constantly struggle with peer pressure. Everyone knows the coolest people drive to school, right? How many more friends do teens suddenly get as soon as they have their licenses? Driving with a car full of rowdy teenagers is dangerous enough for an adult, let alone a child.
In many instances, teen drivers obey the laws and are safe on the roads. But now that iPods and cell phones are a constant distraction, driving, even for adults, is more challenging. Throw in a couple of teenagers, and you have a recipe for disaster. Since raising the driving age may be nothing more than a pipe dream, I have a solution to the problem.
I have an idea for new electronic monitoring system that uses real-time data to determine whether or not your child should drive the family car. What if a system would actually be able to tell if your child is driving alone and could regulate the speed of the vehicle? What if you could set up each vehicle to start only if your 100-pound daughter was sitting in the driver's seat. Once she hit the road, you could limit the speed to 70 mph. What's more, the GPS tracking would tell you where the car is at all times. What's best, the system would keep the car parked if your child is breaking the rules and laws both you and the state of Georgia have implemented.
Meet Automated Driver Awareness Monitor. A.D.A.M is an active intelligence-based monitoring system that would give parents the ability to setup each car for each driver. With this system, each car seat would have a series of sensors installed along various pressure points that would be able to measure the weight of each passenger. At all times, the computer would know how much weight is sitting in each seat. Parents would then have the ability to set parameters for each driver.
Speed is another variable which A.D.A.M. could regulate. Speed governing technology currently exists in virtually every car. Governing speed is a matter of cutting out the fuel or adjusting the ignition at a predetermined speed. Sure, fatal accidents can still occur at 70 mph. But maybe the accidents wouldn't be as bad.
Each driver would have his own electronic key. Much like the systems used in modern office buildings, each driver would wave his small plastic key in front of a small infrared scanner located near the ignition switch. Once the key is swiped, the computer recognizes the driver and searches for the customized parameters. If the parameters do not match, the car doesn't start.
In case of an emergency, a 911 override could be punched in on a small keypad. Once the 911 override is entered, the car would start, regardless of driver parameters, and police would be immediately dispatched to the location.
To make it all work, each system would have user accounts that could be managed by a central database. The systems could be monitored by companies much like alarm companies do now. In addition, each user administrator would be able to set the parameters. Parents, wouldn't it be nice to have that control? I know, it's going to be a hassle for you to have to go pick your child up from someone's house at 12:15 a.m. because you've programmed the car not to start after midnight. But just think how thankful you'd be when you show up and found your child had been drinking.
I'm a realist. I know this system would be expensive and probably wouldn't have been installed in the car the teens in DeKalb County were driving. But this problem does not discriminate. It does not choose between races or social classes. Something has to be done.
Imagine how much better you'd feel if you could allow you child the freedom of the road within reason. I love driving. I always have. But I also respect the danger at hand when I get behind the wheel. The human body is very fragile. Crushed metal and soft tissue and bones do not mesh.
The problem is not going away anytime soon. Compounding the problem, cars are safer, faster and handle better. Cars are more forgiving nowadays and the emphasis is not so much on driver awareness and ability. It's a scary thought.
A.D.A.M is nothing more than my imaginary friend. But even he knows it's time for someone to invoke change. The technology is out there.
If anyone has a few million dollars lying around, give me a call. I'm more than willing to give it a shot. Some may think this is merely a far-fetched idea that invokes George Orwellian paranoia. Maybe so.
The better idea is to change teen driving laws and raise the driving age. Parents and governments need to get smart about this. How many more teens need to die?
Josh Briggs is the education reporter for The Covington News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.