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GAIL WHITE Driving under the influence ... of children



Published: Wed, January 2, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



I was at a holiday party, enjoying the company of old friends.

A group of us had engaged in a conversation about driving. Stories flowed of various driving mishaps and near-misses.

A young woman I did not know had joined the group. She was silent for quite a while. Then she spoke.

"I think the worst drivers are women in minivans," she said. "They are all over the road, pulling out in front of traffic ..." She wanted to go on but she sensed the stares she was receiving.

The group fell silent. All eyes went from her -- to me.

I assessed the woman quickly -- young, single, childless and most likely, I concluded, drives a sports car.

Another point of view: "Are you familiar with the term DUI?" I asked this YSC (young, single, childless) woman.

She nodded.

"Well, what you have just described is a MBW -- Mother Behind the Wheel," I explained.

"Chances are," I said as I smiled condescendingly at this poor, unknowing YSC, "a minivan swerving all over the road indicates a driver who is passing juice and crackers back to a crying child or is yelling at two arguing siblings to stop touching each other.

"Of course," I continued, "there is always the possibility that the driver is trying to determine who hit her in the back of the head with a baseball."

There was a tone in my voice now. No one stepped in to save this YSC woman from my wrath.

Explanation: "Recklessly pulling out in front of people is easy to explain," I said, very matter-of-fact. "You decide to take your much-used, must-last-for-ten-years minivan to the car wash.

"As you stand, spraying the vehicle with soapy water, two children are bouncing around inside the van like caged animals. You recognize that they are trying to avoid being 'shot' by the water spray.

"Another child is tapping on his window, begging to ask you a question.

"Very much aware of the short time allotted at such car washes, and looking at the dirt covering the enormous vehicle, you ignore the child.

"The tapping continues, as does the chaos in the back seats."

I pause in my storytelling. YSC is looking like she would like an earthquake to strike. I recognize I must talk quickly before her cell phone rings.

"When the tapping becomes a loud banging, you decide to answer the question.

"You motion to roll down the window. He does.

"'What?' you ask with the most amount of patience you can muster.

"'Is the water cold?' He inquires.

"That's the all-important, must-know-now question?

"While you consider whether to wring his neck or soak him with the water gun, you are simultaneously yelling at the kids in the back to sit down."

I can tell my subject is now ready to forget about the earthquake; she is looking to crawl under a piece of furniture.

Discovery: But I continue: "The van is finally clean. You sit down behind the wheel with a final command to the children in the back to sit down.

"One of them responds, 'We can't. The seat is all wet.'

"You look back. One of the windows is open a crack.

"Much of the two seats are soaking wet.

"'Did it not occur to any of you to close the window?'" I imitate my response by raising my voice. There is fear in the YSC woman's eyes.

"You face them, venomous words on the tip of your tongue. Then you decide not to waste your breath.

"Instead, you turn on the car, pop it into gear and floor it.

"That's how pulling out in front of traffic happens," I conclude. (It also helps dry out the back seat.)

I, personally, don't think that MBW's are terrible drivers. I know I take carrying my precious cargo very seriously.

That precious cargo can cause distractions, however. It is good to enlighten the YSC drivers what's going on behind the wheel.

gwhite@vindy.com




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