Saturday, January 14, 2012

Can Driving a Manual Transmission Vehicle Really Help to Protect Our Kids and Keep Them Safe?

One of our local news stations did a story about the increase in parents getting their newly licensed kids vehicles with stick shifts instead of with automatic transmissions. It made me wonder if this kind of subtle change could really help keep these rookie drivers safe.

I'm sure most of us can recall when we were learning how to drive. No matter what we did those two pedals always seemed to feel a little bit strange. I tried to be as gentle as I could, on the brake, but I couldn't get the hang of it; evidence of this was my Mom and Dad getting mild cases of whiplash in the passenger's seat.

I recall having a difficult time getting this heavy machine I was controlling to do what I wanted it to do. To make matters worse there were all of these obstacles in the way that I had to account for; other vehicles, pedestrians, trees, etc. were all things that I had to keep tabs of and an eye on. Mastering the feel of the vehicle was one thing, processing all of the ongoing and changing surroundings was a completely new experience.

Recently there have been pretty substantial pushes to make driving a safer experience for all of us. Here in California laws have been passed that prohibit cell phone use while driving unless a hands free device was used. While I applaud the law on principle I do question its overall effectiveness. Sure keeping your hands on the steering wheel will place you in more control of the vehicle, and able to respond to a situation quicker, but what if your mind is just too involved in the call. Just because your hands are not holding the cell phone doesn't mean that your brain, and attention, is not divided between the call and the road. Even though the law may have some fundamental flaws it really is a good start in keeping our hands free of fussing with our portable electronic devices.

That brings me to the primary reason that parents are getting manual transmission vehicles for their children. The theory is that their hands will be too busy steering the vehicle and shifting gears to be texting. It does make sense doesn't it? For all of us who have driven a stick shift there are a bunch of things going on to get the vehicle to go and stop without stalling the darn thing. New drivers should be dedicating 100% of their attention to the roads and operating the vehicle. Putting them in a vehicle that doesn't shift gears for them really forces them to devote their attention to the task at hand and not who is going to the party Friday night.

Deep down, I wish we could just tell our kids about the dangers of using their cell phones while driving and that would be enough of a deterrent for them to not do it. Reality tells me that they will do it because they will also speed and drive without their seatbelts even though we have told them not to.

With a son getting close to sixteen this story really caught my attention. I have already begun talking to my son about driving when we are in the car together. I try to point out things so he can see potential issues on the roads before he has to make an emergency maneuver. Small things like looking at other drivers' eyes can help keep you out of a dangerous situation.

Even though he doesn't have a cell phone (because he doesn't need one) the day will come when he does own one and I want him to know how dangerous the combination of driving and cell phone use can be. Deep down parents everywhere hope that they have prepared their young adults for these challenges and that they make the right decisions.

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