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Father shares his pain to help promote safe driving for teens

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published April 24. 2014 4:00AM   Updated April 24. 2014 6:18AM
Tim Martin/The Day
Tim Hollister of Bloomfield, a spokesman for safe teen driving, speaks Wednesday at Fitch High School about losing his 17-year-old son, Reid, in a car crash. Go to www.theday.com to see a video.
Loss of son in crash inspired his book

Groton - The first call Tim Hollister got that night in December 2006 was that his son, Reid, had been in a car accident.

The second was that Reid was at New Britain General Hospital.

The third was that he'd been moved to a trauma center. Tim Hollister was on a business trip in Washington, D.C., and a neighbor, who was with his wife, told him to get home now.

Hollister left at midnight and got to Hartford by 5:15 a.m.

Reid had died two hours earlier.

On Wednesday, Hollister spoke to about 30 parents at Robert E. Fitch High School about how they can make it safer for their teenagers on the road. After Reid's death in 2006, Hollister served on the Connecticut task force that overhauled the state's driving laws, started a national blog for parents of teen drivers, and was awarded the U.S. Department of Transportation National Public Service Award.

His book, "Not So Fast," published in 2013, is dedicated to his son.

"I want my lessons to become your lessons without you having to go through the trials and the tragedy that my family has gone through," he told the audience.

Hollister, who was living in West Hartford at the time, said he did what he thought he was supposed to as a parent: He took his son out to practice driving, got him a safe car, and let out the tether gradually after Reid drove for months crash-free.

Here's what happened the night Reid died. He texted his father that he was going to a friend's house but instead picked up two teenage girls from the neighborhood and drove the opposite way. They headed down Interstate 84 at 9:25 p.m., just to get out, then got lost.

Then they realized the girls had to be back for a curfew that they might not make.

The road was wet. Reid lost control of the car where I-84 bends at an almost 90-degree angle; he turned too suddenly after going too straight, and the car spun in circles twice. The butt of the guardrail hit the driver's side door, crushing the left side of his chest. The passengers were injured but survived.

New drivers look at what's immediately in front of and around them, not what's coming down the road, Hollister explained.

"Their goal is not to hit anything," he said. "They don't look down the road at the developing traffic situation." At the same time, teenagers often learn how to drive in small cars on familiar streets, then end up driving on major highways in unfamiliar places in bigger cars.

Imagine driving a rental car in a strange city, trying to read street signs on a highway and also not knowing how to drive well, Hollister said.

He suggested parents should act like air traffic controllers when it comes to driving. Teenagers need a destination, a route and a timetable. If they have somewhere to go, like school, they'll be more deliberate because they need to get there, he said.

Teenage passengers mean more accidents, Hollister said. He added that parents should require their teenager to sign an agreement before driving that includes a rule like this: No electronic device shall be used to text, type, read, watch a video or make a phone call unless the car is in park.

Mary Ann Little, co-chairman of the Fitch Parent Council and mother of a daughter, 17, and son, 13, read Hollister's book.

"I couldn't put it down," she said. Two lessons stuck with her, she said: First, that teens should drive for a purpose, to go somewhere. Second, that teens can't look ahead and anticipate risk.

"He had a horrible thing happen to him," she said. "And he's trying to go out and talk to parents and help them think beyond, 'Here's the keys. See you later.'"

d.straszheim@theday.com

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