Teen drivers reflect on Vashon’s driving
By Lucy Wing, Content Editor
Content warning: This article covers potentially triggering topics such as vehicle fatalities and death, including members of the community. If these make you uncomfortable, we suggest you stop reading. If you are struggling with grief or trauma surrounding these topics, please reach out to any of these resources below or make a trusted friend or family member aware.
Vashon Youth and Family Services: (206) 463-5511
Teen Link: (866) 833-6546
As society is approaching the end of a nearly two and a half-year pandemic, statistics from around the country are flooding in surrounding road related accidents, injuries, and fatalities. A survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows an approximately 12 percent increase in motor vehicle fatalities from 2021 to 2022. While Vashon has not faced nearly the rise in fatalities, the rise in accidents are on trend, especially among the student population.
Vashon Island High School (VHS) has counted at least five non-fatal accidents in the 2021-2022 school year, and those are just the ones the administration is aware of. These accidents are mostly single-vehicle, and are often attributed to distracted driving and the increased risk of immaturity behind the wheel.
Another survey by the National Institute of Health said teenage drivers are eight times more likely to be involved in a collision or near miss during the first three months after getting a driver’s license, compared to the previous three months on a learner’s permit. Teens are also four times more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as rapid acceleration, sudden braking, and hard turns, during this period.
The administration is more than aware of these risks in the youth driving population, but VHS principal Danny Rock also factors in the increased risk of driving on Vashon Island specifically.
“I think a little bit of immaturity, impulsiveness, a little bit of dangerous roads lead to [Vashon being] more dangerous than an average environment for driving,” Rock said.
Students themselves also recognize the dangers of driving on Vashon, as well as the uniqueness of the accidents that happen here.
“[The accidents on Vashon] are all really reckless driving accidents,” Ben O’Connor, a Vashon commuter to Kennedy Catholic High School, said. “A lot of my friends [off-island] get into accidents too but they’re normal accidents like [at an] intersection or hitting a parked car. Most of the accidents I’ve heard of [on Vashon] were just people going way too fast; they could have been avoided.”
In the past year the number of these accidents has significantly spiked since pre-pandemic. Some look at two and a half years of feigned responsibility, online school, and a general lack of awareness surrounding one’s place in the community.
“Looking at COVID, I think there’s still a disconnect of responsibility with school. At home you close the Zoom meeting and you’re in your room. It’s not like it used to be, there’s no sense of responsibility or consciousness [now], and I think it was lost over COVID,” VHS senior Gus Holmes said.
While part of it can be attributed to COVID and the lack of responsibility felt by students, there is also an overarching problem of driving habits within the community on the island.
“I feel like on Vashon there’s a culture of being bad at driving,” O’Connor said. “Especially with the driving standards, passing the driving test on Vashon I’ve heard is super easy, you can get your license without [really] doing anything. And it doesn’t set up a good culture for safe driving.”
The driving classes offered on Vashon are limited to rural driving, and classroom lessons have recently been taught online due to the pandemic, adding to another factor to the dangerous concoction of learning to drive on Vashon.
“People might not pay as much attention [as] if they were taking drivers ed in person. Also in person, people might be able to retain the information easier,” VHS junior Danny Boyle said.
In addition, parents on the island seem to be more lenient with license and permit restrictions than in other places.
“A lot of my friends just drove with their permits. Like everywhere. [There’s a mindset of] ‘there’s no way you’re gonna get caught so it doesn’t really matter,’” O’Connor said.
Part of this permissiveness is due to the significant lack of police presence on Vashon. Only two patrol cars are allocated to the island, and often police are assigned to the island as a break from the intensity of policing in the city.
“It’s a serious mental health break for them so they’re not really motivated to be trigger happy with the speed reader,” Rock said. “I can’t tell you the last time I heard of anyone getting pulled over for speeding. They don’t even sit in the places anymore where they used to sit to monitor for speed, let alone actually pull people over.”
All of these factors add to the dangers of driving on Vashon, and in the event of an accident,
the impact on the community is widespread.
“It’s hard though to not hurt you know. When something major [happens] then everything else just sort of adds to the severity of that experience,”
Rock said, referring to the traffic fatality VHS experienced in July 2021.
Following trends with most traumatic events, there is an increase in trauma and anxiety from one specific event for those directly involved, but for those not involved it begins to blur with other similar events and there is a decrease in sensitivity.
“I feel like fairly desensitized to it. ‘I was like, oh, there’s another crash, I wonder who was in it.’ It’s not from a point of panic or surprise, it’s just, ‘oh, what happened again? Like, here’s this week’s crash,’” Holmes said.
As a member of the community, Vashon Island Fire and Rescue Captain Josh Munger has observed this desensitization in the general population. But as a first responder Munger has seen the devastating effects on those directly involved in the accident and on those involved on a secondary level.
“I have been on some teenage fatality wrecks, and those are really tough ones. There’s nothing worse than a parent arriving on scene and listening to their grief. Them screaming as they realize what has happened,” Munger said.
In a place like Vashon it’s not those directly involved that feel the grief of a loss either, the entire community takes a hit.
“Because the risks are so significant, it’s never just a risk that they’re taking on their own. They’re always involving other people, even the student who is by themselves and crashes never just impacts themselves, they impact their family or their friends, even the community at large is impacted,” Rock said.
Whether you feel a pressure and responsibility or not, there is a pressure and responsibility to be a safe and responsible driver, not just for yourself and others on the road, but for everyone else in the community as well.
“So just slow it down. Be safe. Be aware. Don’t drive drunk and don’t drive distracted,” Munger said.