YODO: You Only Die Once

I am seeking to find a Great Perhaps….

If this quote means something to you, you have read the current, best-selling teenager page-turner: John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Even if you haven’t, I’m willing to bet you’ve seen this particular quote floating around the Internet:

“When adults say, ‘Teenagers think they are invincible’, with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die.”

Some live and breathe this quote. And with summer on the horizon, it’s hard to not feel that egotistical invincibility that teenage freedom triggers.

The truth is, however, that teenagers can break. Teenagers can die. The commonality is actually daunting. And it’s not always from a freak accident, like an intruder break-in, or Six Flags mishap. Sometimes they die from taking the popular phrase “YOLO” too seriously at a party. Sometimes they die by breaching the speed limit on a Taco Bell run. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But it is also, unfortunately, true.

Summer means a lot of things: No school. Sleep in. Stay up late. Unlimited time with friends. Comfortable weather.
Without school devouring 7+ plus hours of our day, we teenagers have more time to drive around the world with our friends. We can fit in a beach trip, going out to eat, and the club in one day.

Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) say that statistics support this. SADD claims that teen drivers average 44% more hours behind the wheel each week during the summer (approx. 23.6 hours) than during the school year (approx. 16.4 hours). Furthermore, 42% of teens report staying out later during the summer.

That sounds like fun, right? I’m no stranger to this. Just the thought of beach trips, or just going to the mall in the car with my friends this summer gives me butterflies. But that doesn’t excuse me from reality. It doesn’t excuse anyone. Simply because it would be unfair, doesn’t mean that our future can’t be taken away from us because we took our eyes off the road for a second.

What keeps us from hiding in our rooms 24/7 is the childish comfort that it would never happen to us. Teenagers who die are simply headlines, in far-away places, and their life has no correlation to yours. The problem with this logic is that those teenagers are just like you. They had parents who love them, best friends, crushes, and they dragged themselves to school five mornings a week. They sang loudly to the radio, they taxied their friends around, and they broke at inopportune times. And, just like you, they put their car into drive, always thinking they’d make it home.

The reality is that 7,300 teens didn’t make it home because of a summer car accident, in the years 2005-2009. That’s an average of 422 per month.

This may seem like a surprise, but the statistics don’t lie. Half of the teens who die this summer will perish because they thought they were okay to drive when they weren’t (Washington Regional Alcohol Program). We all know someone who’s done this. And the people who make these decisions are usually leaving a party, bar, or club late at night. Almost three-quarters of teens report staying out late. Of all teen driving deaths, 27% occur between 9 pm and 2 am.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t drink. Taking a spontaneous trip at 1 in the morning sounds like a lot of fun – the open road, music blasting. But your life can be at risk because of those who make poorer decisions. Do your chances still seem so great?

Obviously, this reality is wracking the nerves of adults, both teachers and parents. They consider that car accidents occur twice as much for teens during the summer than the rest of the year combined (National Highway Traffic Safety Association) and shudder at the upcoming last day of school.

“A tragic, absolute waste of a teenager’s life is to die in a car wreck,” Master Sergeant Meehan, of our NJROTC program, sentiments. He has recently spent his time with the NS4’s (senior cadets), who will be out of his hands in a couple months, teaching them car safety. From aggressive driving, to jumpstarting a dead battery, he is trying to keep them from becoming a headline. “Is it really worth risking your life,” he wonders, “so you can get somewhere a minute earlier? You can’t wait at a light for 30 seconds?”

Naturally, we’re all going to have fun this summer. We shouldn’t stay in our rooms, scared of the world, because of such statistics. That also doesn’t mean safety doesn’t matter, because #YOLO.

Safety does matter. Recklessness can cost you your life. It can cost you the ability to walk. It can cost you your best friend’s life. Even if you total the car and walk away with a scratch, insurance isn’t so forgiving. On average, teen insurance quotes increase by 30% after their first accident, and 60-150% after the second. Will that night out be worth it when you’re picking up extra shifts left and right to make ends meet?

There is a way to have fun and stay safe. All it takes is paying attention to that cautious, if nagging voice in the back of your mind, and never forget that you are not invincible. You only live once, sure, but you only die once.

“If this hurts someone’s feelings, good” Meehan concludes. “I don’t want to hear about another 16-year-old dying in a car accident.”

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