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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

living dangerously

When I was a child, my father allowed me to ride in the back of his pickup truck.  It wasn't ever anything that we thought twice about.  He had a girlfriend who was on the large side and there just wasn't a ton of room on that bench seat.  So, I was often put in the bed.

This was during the late '80s and early '90s when I was also allowed to ride in the front seat of my mom's car without a seat belt.  In fact, I can remember having quite a few driving lessons with my father when I was only ten or eleven years old.  It was a different time back then.  I would never think to put my ten year old behind the wheel of a car today! (or in the front seat, for that matter).

At any rate, I survived.

One time, when I was in fourth or fifth grade, my father was dating a woman who had a daughter in middle or high school.  The girl was involved in her school choir and was about to take a field trip to Carowinds, in Charlotte, NC.  My dad's girlfriend and her younger daughter invited us to tag along that weekend, but we had to drive.  Of course, my dad gassed up his trusty pickup truck and set off down the road with the other girl and me in the bed.  There was a cover on the truck at that point, and we had some blankets for comfort, but it was a very long drive, indeed.

On the way home that evening, the temperature began to fall and it got very cold in the back of that cold, hard bed.  My newfound friend and I huddled together for warmth, but it didn't quite cut it.  Eventually, we climbed through the back window into the truck's cab and crammed together with everyone else.  It was quite the experience.

Again, I survived.  At times, I wonder how.

My pickup truck fun ended abruptly not long thereafter.  There was a campaign to inform parents about the dangers of riding in the bed of a truck, which apparently worked on my father.  He learned that kids can be ejected from the bed in the event of a sudden turn or stop and quickly banned me from riding in the rear.  Soon after, he replaced the truck with a van and that was that.  Of course, the van had no seat belts, but we were getting somewhere, weren't we?

I was reminded of my childhood antics yesterday when I was driving on a busy freeway.  A truck merged in front of me and I noticed that there was a dog in the bed.  The animal looked happy enough, but I was so worried that it would jump out in front of me that I couldn't focus on much else.  My driving slowed and I increased the distance between myself and the truck.

If I couldn't fathom the idea of letting the dog ride in the pickup, I began to wonder why parents used to be willing to let their kids ride back there.  In this day and age, we completely restrict kids' movement around the interior of the car.  New carseat recommendations have babies riding in rear-facing seats until age 2.  My son, age 10, just recently received clearance from his doctor to ride without a booster seat.  He will be in the backseat for at least another two years, perhaps longer.  We have airbags, seat belts, and numerous other safety features.  Automobile technology has come a long way in the past twenty years and parents are more educated about how to keep their children safe while riding in the vehicles.  That's a great thing.

Not a Britney moment... promise!

Though improvements in motor vehicle safety were much-needed and a great thing, parents have also become over-protective in the past twenty or so years.  I mentioned to my mother recently that I had let Alex walk up to the neighborhood school for a viola lesson.  Her first question was, "Can you see the whole way to the school from your house?"  Well, no.  I can't.  But, we only live a couple of blocks away.  When I was nine, I was walking a further distance home from school each day in all sorts of weather.  Of course, my mother's argument is, "Times have changed."

She's right.  Times have changed since I was a child.  Things are safer now.  According to well-known free-ranger Lenore Skenazy, crime has fallen to the level that it was in 1970.  Therefore, I was in more danger walking home from school at the age of nine than my son is at risk of by occasionally walking a shorter distance in 2011.  Furthermore, I was a victim of kidnapping back then (by a family member), so I know it can happen.  But, I have faith that it won't.  At some point, we have to let go. 

Photo Credit:
Tommy's Truck by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr
Eye Contact by A. Davey via Flickr.


  1. I totally agree, times have changed. I remember walking to school by myself at five years old. We lived about a quarter mile away from the school. And riding in the back of the pick up? My dad never let us do that, but my grandpa would. It's amazing how things have changed, but honestly, I think it's for the better.

  2. In regards to vehicle safety, I do think the changes are for the better.

    However, I also think it is a shame for parents to be afraid to let their older kids play outside or walk to school because somebody could be lurking in the bushes. I also balk at the baby safety products such as knee pads and toddler helmets that are now readily available. I worry that we may be raising a new generation that is afraid to venture into their front yards, out of fear of stubbing a toe. There comes a point at which we must weigh the benefit of these safety precautions against the lessons that will be learned through the experience of failure.

  3. You did a great job with this story. I, too, grew up in a vastly different era. I think the new safety standards are a little over the top, but that's just my opinion. I would never fail to follow them, but they seem pretty restrictive.


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