Tired of teen-agers driving dangerously fast, Judge James Foley came up with an “educational punishment” that officials say may save lives by making the youths think twice.
Youngsters convicted of going 80 m.p.h. or more in Macon County are ordered to spend a day with high-speed accident victims, many unable to move more than their eyeballs in the hospital beds where they live out their lives.
“I’ve been on too many phone calls from the highway patrol saying that some youngster was killed in a car wreck. I’m sick of that,” said Foley, a county prosecutor for 23 years before becoming an associate circuit judge 1 1/2 years ago. He is 53.
“I’m trying to reach youthful drivers who have 50 years ahead of them. You expect kids to make mistakes, but if you let them do nothing about it but mail in a fine, then what have you done to modify their behavior?”
Day at Hospital
Foley has sent about 30 speeders ages 16 to 21 to the University of Missouri Health Sciences Center at Columbia for a day of talking to doctors, nurses and other staff members along with some of the patients. The youngsters then have to write an essay about what they learned.
If they fail to go to the hospital and write the essay, they risk losing their licenses. The hospital trip does not keep them from having to pay fines of $150 to $200.
“I really chew on these kids so they’ll know what they did,” Foley said.
Nobody making the trip to Columbia has reappeared before him for speeding, the judge said, although one youth was later ticketed in another county.
In one essay, a 17-year-old boy who had been caught going 94 m.p.h. summed up the effect of touring the intensive care unit, where tubes and wires keep patients alive: “This scene was more disgusting than watching all of the ‘Friday the 13th’ movies consecutively.”
He added: “Although everyone makes mistakes, not everyone gets by as easily as I did. Some people will pay for their high-speed driving for the rest of their lives.”
Gave Up Motorcycle
Another speeder wrote that he gave up his motorcycle: “I have lost my nerve and don’t want to have my luck run out. I want to live a long life.”
At the hospital, the teen-agers get a picture of what happens from the time a patient is admitted, through treatment and rehabilitation, said Kathleen Cain, who runs the program and is coordinator of the hospital’s head and spinal injury prevention project.
“They expect to see blood and guts and be frightened,” she said. “The real reality for them is seeing somebody trying to learn to eat or learn to speak. They see people doing things as basic as learning how to comb their hair.”
For the most part the patients are the same age as the speeders, which Cain said has a profound impact on them.
“The day slowly grows on them. They don’t come in and immediately see something that’ll knock their socks off,” she said. “As the day goes on, they get quieter.”
One turning point in their feelings, she said, is having lunch with a 21-year-old quadriplegic. “It makes a real impact on them. He’s pretty blunt with telling them what his life is like.”
Cain and Foley said it is too early to assess the program’s impact on the speeders but both believe it is paying benefits.
“At least we can see where we get their attention and they learn something,” she said.