Friday, June 30, 2000
It's the Law
In November 1998, new rules for teenage drivers went into effect in Massachusetts. I remember it well because my second daughter, age 16 and three-quarters then, was caught in the unique position of going from being able to legally drive friends to not being able to drive them until she was 17, according to the new law. We had already limited her passenger list to family members so, although the change was awkward, all it did was re-enforce an in-house rule. We were grateful.
Last March, our son received his junior operator's license and since the law had been in effect for two years, I expected few questions regarding the restriction on passengers. However, what I heard was that few kids were following this law and parents didn't seem to care. Since this is our third teenager, I am wise to the fact one can't always believe what one hears that other parents allow, but I fear there may be some truth to what he said.
It isn't surprising that teens and parents have balked at this regulation. There's no question it's less convenient for parents who must revert to doing driving and carpooling. It does cause there to be more cars and young drivers on the road. It might also force an older but less able driver to take the wheel.
Nonetheless, it's the law and it was passed for a good reason. In 1997 and 1998, approximately 46 percent of the licensed 16-year-old drivers were involved in crashes. Compare that to approximately 23 percent of licensed 17-year-olds and 17 percent of 18-year-olds. It isn't surprising that accidents with 16-year-old drivers had the highest number of fatalities. Obviously, passengers of young drivers are at increased risk. "Almost two out of every three teens who died as passengers in 1998 crashes were in vehicles driven by other teens, especially 16-year-olds. Fatal crashes involving drivers this age are much more likely to occur with three or more people in the vehicleand the occupants are usually other teensthan are crashes involving older drivers," according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Allan F. Williams of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety explains that beginning drivers "have to accumulate a lot of experience before they're able to combine steering with scanning the environment and putting it all together, all at the same time, behind the wheel." Williams adds that "handling a car responsibly takes more than mastering the skills. It takes the maturity."
Statistics indicate that states with graduated licensing requirements have decreased accident rates for young drivers. However, even if parents don't see the benefits of the law or agree with it, I worry about what message is conveyed when teens hear that they don't have to follow laws that they don't like or find inconvenient. Junior operators receive their licenses with the expectation that they will obey traffic rules. For the safety of our young drivers and others on the road, I think we should expect them to follow all of them.
Small Town Blues
To a visitor, Carlisle looks like a typical small New England town, with everything a small town needs: post office, library, superette, and 43 real estate offices. But first looks can be deceiving, for Carlisle lacks one of the essentials that makes small towns . . . well, livable. That essential ingredient is the social club, a place where friends and neighbors can get together to share a cold beer while discussing the latest plan for affordable housing. Not that I want to slight the transfer station, where many Carlisleans do meet and chat, but dumps, although great for a quick hello, are not too good for extended conversations or drinking cold beer.
Our town's lack of social clubs organized around traits such as ethnic origin, military experience, or interest in large, huntable animals, is probably not a reflection of widespread antipathy toward socializing per se. Nor is it due to a lack of common interests. I'm sure a social club focusing on, say, Internet stock investments, would attract a large segment of Carlisle citizenry. I can envision it now. After a hard day funneling millions of dollars into the newest e-businessan online sausage exchangeyou walk into the VFW (Venture Fund Warriors) hall, spot a few members intently watching the tube, and call out in friendly tones, "So how're the Celts doin'?"
A tanned gentleman in a three-piece suit and loosely knotted power tie will put down his Brie and calmly reply, "Down 1-1/8 on active trading." After a short pause for a sip of Pernod, he might add, "But the Sox are up 2-1/4 after dumping Garciaparra's contract on the Braves for two minor leaguers and the rights to www.greenmonster.com."
"Fascinating," you'll respond. "Let's switch over to the Financial News Network and get their take on it."
Now, please don't think for a moment that I'm longing for a local social club because I'm too lazy to drive all the way to Bedford to find friends and a frosty brew. That would not be at all accurate. Driving there would be no problem. Finding a friend would be the issue. No, the truth is I want to go someplace where the folks I see at the dump will show up; somewhere where everybody knows my name or at least recognizes my trash.
This isn't just fantasizing on my part; I'm a former card-carrying member of the Polish-American Club of Newmarket, N.H., a town about the size of Carlisle, but which managed in the mid-70s to support three social clubs, two bars, one dance hall, and a superette (which doubled as the lone real estate office). Newmarket was a decidedly no-IPO type of town. And the Polish-American Club was a decidedly no-business-done-here kind of club. In other words, my kind of place.
But it looks like my social-club dream is not destined to be at least not in Carlisle. Besides the liquor ban problem and numerous zoning hurdles, I just don't think there are enough people who could leave work by 5:30 for a Monday night ping-pong tournament and a boilermaker. So as an alternative, I offer the following proposition: if you find yourself at the dump some Saturday afternoon, with no particular reason to hurry back home, drop by my house. I'm right around the corner and there's a frisky 1994 San Mateo Frascati chilling in the basement. I've got an empty glass and a few stories waiting just for you. But please, bring your own BrieI only eat kielbasa with white wine.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito