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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
By Allie Davison, Wharton High
You could say Tampa police Cpl. Kert Rojka, a 17-year veteran with the department and supervisor of Hillsborough County school resource officers, has been around the block with teenage drivers. Too many teen accidents are the result of careless driving, including texting behind the wheel and drunken driving, he says. He recently talked with tb-two* about teens and dangerous driving, and even shared a confession of his own.
Talk about teenagers and driving in general.
What I see demonstrated time and time again is the carelessness of a new (inexperienced) driver. They don’t know how to fully operate a car. It is one thing to be able to put your foot on the brake and on the gas and control the steering wheel. It is another thing to really understand what it takes distance-wise to make a car stop, how to react to different scenarios. Kids being distracted — texting or talking on the phone, music, other people in the car — just adds to the likelihood that something bad is going to happen.
How do you determine if an accident involved a cellphone?
If it is a serious case that involves death or serious injury, we can subpoena the phone records. We can look and see when they were texting, or if they were on the phone at the time the crash happened. If it is a minor fender bender we aren’t going to go through all of that, but if it is a serious case we can find out exactly what the driver was doing, within reason.
Where are student drivers getting their cues?
Students have said that the way their parents drive influences how they drive. Two-thirds of parents talk on the phone while they drive. Half the parents speed, and a third of the parents don’t wear seat belts. It starts at home with the parents.
What goes on in teenagers’ brains when they look down at that text message or answer that call?
It’s just a natural instinct for them to want to talk on the phone and not think twice about anything else around them. That goes to inexperience. It also goes to immaturity. This is not a chance for us to beat up on kids, but it is a problem that can get people seriously injured, can get people killed. The people who survive the crash are permanently affected forever in their lives. The driver of the vehicle that is responsible for it can be impacted for the rest of their lives. Their families can be impacted. It is a very serious topic. Teenage drivers, that’s probably the one group that frightens me the most out on the roadways.
Some teenagers suggest they know their limits when drinking and driving.
I think teenagers have the invincibility factor going on. “I’m in complete control,” when in reality, alcohol reacts against the body whether you want it or not. You get distracted on the phone. Your body is focused on the phone and you’re not paying attention to the red light in front of you or the car stopped or that person that just walked in front of the road. No, you don’t know your limits. Your body knows your limits, but you can’t tell your body what your limit is.
Teenagers get into cars with intoxicated drivers.
I think it is too much of a coolness factor. If I tell my friend “No, I won’t ride with you because you’re drunk,’’ well, I want to be your friend, so I’ll go along with it. They are willing to do things they might not normally do because of peer pressure. Never get into a car with anyone that has been drinking. You know, you just want to scream at them, “DON’T DO IT! You can die tonight.”
You say your 11-year-old son gets on you for texting while you drive. Do you feel guilty?
I do. I know in my mind that it isn’t the safest thing for me to do. So trust me, if my boys are in the car, my oldest one will correct me very quickly. I can’t imagine a knock on the door from a law enforcement officer saying we are sorry to tell that your son or daughter was involved in a car crash and they didn’t make it. That has to be the worst thing ever. That would crush me beyond belief if that ever happened. Especially if it was something senseless. How would you even begin to pick the pieces up after that?