When a high school golf coach has a blood alcohol level two and a half times the legal limit and a van full of kids who she was driving around, you know heads are going to roll. Reading the kids' terrified text messages to their parents alone is terrifying. But why isn't the happy ending -- Susie Lynn Steinbeck was arrested on drunk driving charges, and the girls from the Fairfield High School girls’ golf team are all fine -- making me feeling any better?
These girls were all teenagers, and they climbed, seemingly willingly, into a van with an extremely inebriated driver behind the wheel. You'd expect that from a 5-year-old who doesn't know any better. But from teenagers who have been getting the "don't drink and drive" talk since elementary school?
I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever be able to trust my kid to make these kind of choices! And if you think I'm overreacting, I should offer this other story to clarify:
A friend from high school remembers babysitting before she was old enough to get her own driver's license. She was a responsible teenager, smart, from a good family. She knew enough about drinking and driving to know you don't get into a car with a drunk. And yet, when she babysat the child at night, the kid's father would drive her home. And more than once, he was obviously drunk, plastered after a night out with his wife -- the whole reason she was called in to babysit. When I asked her why she got in the car, she looked embarrassed. The reason, she said, was really that she was too afraid not to. Afraid she'd lose the babysitting gig, afraid to speak up to an adult she'd been raised to respect.
An estimated 50 percent of the teens who die in drunk driving wrecks weren't driving. They were passengers, and often they were scared to speak up.
In the Fairfield case, the kids started speaking up as their coach allegedly drove like a maniac, some even texting to their parents that they thought they were going to die because she wouldn't pull over. Reading one girl's text, fear is all that comes to mind:
Ohh myy goshh susie is going to kill us! She cant stay on the road! So in case this is the last time i talk to you i love you! :)
They did the best they could in a really tough situation. But I can't help wondering if they would have been in that situation at all if it weren't for the driver being a coach, a person they were raised to look up to and respect, a person they were afraid would cut them from the team if they complained -- kind of like that babysitter and the kid's dad.
I'd like to think the age when kids can get their own driver's license, and therefore are more empowered about taking someone's keys and getting themselves out of scary situations, is the right age to let them make the choice about who drives them and where. When will you let your kids make that choice?
Image via rodeworks/Flickr