This past week, when 18-year-old Aaron Deveau of Haverhill, MA, was convicted of violating a recent law that bans drivers from texting, he made history. He also broke a lot of hearts on both sides of the case—especially among those of us holding our breaths every time one of our teens gets behind the wheel of a car.
Deveau, who’d had his license just six months and was only seventeen at the time of the accident, swerved across the yellow center line on the road and crashed into an oncoming car driven by father and grandfather Donald Bowley, age 55. Bowley died and left behind a grief-stricken family. Deveau, who was also found guilty of motor vehicle homicide, is serving a year in prison, doing community service, and having his license revoked until he is 33 years old.
Not punishment enough, say many, to pay for the life Deveau took. But let’s not judge him too harshly. This kid could belong to any one of us.
To me, in fact. I have four children old enough to drive, and every one of them has gotten into an accident of some sort, ranging from scraping up the side of the car while backing down the driveway to driving into a ditch while trying to switch stations on the radio.
Nor am I immune from carelessness behind the wheel. At age 22, I was driving too fast when my car slid on black ice. I ended up doing a 360-degree turn into oncoming traffic. I was just lucky that there wasn’t any traffic coming at precisely that moment. At age 28, I bought my first brand new car; two weeks later, I drove around a city block too fast and sideswiped a parked car. I was just lucky that nobody was inside that car, or getting out of it at that exact moment in time.
And, just a few years ago, a cop pulled me over for swerving over the yellow center line because he thought I’d had too much to drink. I hadn’t been drinking at all. I was just trying to reach down and push the lid onto my travel cup so the hot tea wouldn’t slosh around. I was just lucky that nobody was coming from the opposite direction during those two seconds I took my eyes off the road.
I was just lucky all of those times. I was also stupid, stupid, stupid.
We are all stupid sometimes. Mostly, thankfully, we are also lucky. Think about how many times a day you—and your children—climb into the driver’s seat of one of those sweet death machines, crank up the tunes, and zoom off to dinner or a movie or the grocery store. We talk on the phone, put on lipstick, sip hot coffee, and eat while we drive. We also make optimistic assumptions about the other drivers: Oh, that guy won’t go through the red light. No, that jeep isn’t going to pull out in front of me. That woman wouldn’t dare turn left in front of me at this intersection, no way!
We are just lucky enough, until that one sad moment when we are not.
I grieve for Donald Bowley’s family, I do. They lost a man they loved. But my heart breaks for Aaron Deveau and his family as well. This boy, so proud of his new license and working hard as a dishwasher while still in high school, was as stupid and unlucky as you can be. We must find it in our hearts to forgive him—and to remind ourselves that it could have been any one of us, or one of our children, behind that steering wheel.
We must remember that we are lucky until that one bleak moment when we are not.