Don’t look where you don’t want to go.

by U.S. Medicine

August 5, 2014
Editor-In-Chief, Chester "Trip" Buckenmaier III, MD,  COL, MC, USA

Editor-In-Chief,
Chester “Trip” Buckenmaier III, MD,
COL, MC, USA

‘Don’t look where you don’t want to go.’ — Author Unknown

In my life adventure as a father of three daughters, I have never faced anything as frightening and dangerous in their development into young adults as teaching them to drive automobiles. In our modern, mobile society, learning to operate a motor vehicle on American roads is as fundamental to success in life as a good education.

While I can still remember the thrill and expanded horizons that driving meant to me as a young man, I cannot help but feel that teaching my daughters to drive is akin to handing them a loaded gun that they have never handled before and stating, “Now try not to shoot yourself.” I have certainly worked hard with all three of them in an attempt to prepare them for the dangers of driving, even going so far as to insist all three learn to drive a standard transmission. I have done my best to outline the myriad driving-related dangers they will be confronting on the open road and impart lessons on how to avoid accidents. Despite all of this, I still experience a sensation of nausea every time they drive off, because I have 34 years of driving experience that has defined the risk so clearly for me personally. It is hard to impart this experience to a teenager who is thrilled at the prospect of driving to the mall without parents and the freedom that represents.

I am pretty sure to their young ears my warnings about driving sound something akin to the television adults on Charlie Brown holiday specials. They must have listened a little though, because all three are good drivers. I am not concerned so much about their skills, however, as I am about the insanity of other drivers on the road which I experience in my daily commute.

My wife and I have protected them from so much throughout their childhood, but the driver’s seat is one aspect of their lives where our ability to protect them falls uncomfortably short of the mark. Fact is, motor vehicle fatalities account for more than one-third of all teenager deaths, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db37.htm) and is the leading cause of death in teenagers. Truly, handing my daughters the keys to the car exposes them to the greatest health risk they can experience in their young lives. If only there were a vaccine for driving; but of course there is not.

Since I cannot protect them from the risk and necessity of driving, the next best thing I can do is arm them with superior driving skills. Pam, my wife, came across a program sponsored by BridgestoneCorp. called the Bridgestone Teens Drive Smart Driving Experience (http://www.teensdrivesmarttour.com/) that promised hands-on experience with issues dealing with accident avoidance, distracted driving, skid recovery and basic vehicle maintenance. Pam, the girls and I invested an early Sunday to check out this free program. Rarely do I mention a company by name in this column, and I should state that I have no interest or financial relationship with Bridgestone or any of their employees, but I was so overwhelmingly impressed with the program that I felt compelled to make others aware of this opportunity.

The day began with a short, informative presentation on the dangers confronting young drivers. This was followed by a practical experience of maneuvering a golf cart around a course while trying to text message a parent, demonstrating the perils of distracted driving. Other activities included basic vehicle maintenance and its importance, along with the physics of vehicle control and on-the-road service. The pièce de résistance was a driving experience with a race car professional in a BMW sports car. The professionals demonstrated lane changing at speed to avoid accidents, hard braking to understand anti-lock braking and skid control on a wetted curve. The young drivers then practiced these maneuvers, at speed, under the watchful eye of the professionals who provided tips and feedback.

Sheepishly, I have to admit that I became so enamored with the program that I began answering the instructor’s questions in one of the classes and had to be politely admonished to allow the kids an opportunity to answer (oops!). In fact, my only beef with the program was that it is limited to drivers younger than 21. As a hybrid owner, I longed to get behind the wheel of that BMW and experience real acceleration.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this event was the validation of all the lessons I had tried to impart to my daughters about driving and the fact that it was coming from race drivers, not lame Dad. Not to mention that they were doing things with and to those BMWs that I am simply not willing to do in my own automobile.

During the course of the event, a common theme was repeated multiple times by the instructors. They reminded these young adults not to stare at the obstacle they are trying to avoid but rather concentrate on where you want the car to go. The brilliant simplicity and reality of this statement was humbling. They explained that our bodies are hard-wired to go where we are looking, so look where you want to go. Pam noted how this statement not only worked for driving but was profoundly appropriate for most situations in life.

I thought how apropos this idea was for federal medicine as it struggles with the VA secret list scandal, sequestration and the excessive opioid use among service personnel recently highlighted in the papers. It seems to me that we have been staring at everything wrong with federal medicine rather than focusing on and highlighting all that is so right. Perhaps as federal medicine providers and leaders we should take a note from my teenage daughters’ driving instructors and start focusing on where we want to go, rather than fixating on where we happen to find ourselves at the moment. Mistakes and challenges abound in federal medicine, but let us look ahead to the solutions for these problems and steer clear.

Finally, I wish to personally thank Bridgestone and their employees for providing this spectacular community service to young drivers free of charge. No, this is not a vaccination against vehicle accidents, but it seems a very close second. The cost for this is hardly insignificant and represents one of the finest examples of a large corporation giving back to the community. Bridgestone, with this nationwide event, has provided an example of corporate responsibility that is too rare and certainly worthy of emulation. The program has my highest recommendation if you, like me, are handing your teenagers the car keys.

 


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