Name: Madison Victoria Belin
From: Raleigh, NC
“Bumper to Bumper”
My favorite childhood show growing up was Spongebob Squarepants. This bright-yellow, happy sponge along with his friends took over my imagination as a kid. I am sure millions of kids across the globe can relate to the warm serotonin memories Spongebob brought them. What resonated with me the most was how relatable the characters were. If you were adventurous, Sandy Cheeks fit you. If you were pessimistic, Squidward fit you. If you were optimistic, Spongebob fit you. If you were a little air-headed, Patrick fit you. There was a character for every personality and a relatable episode every season. I can recite every episode, song, and line of his. One episode in particular stands out to me though. “Bumper to Bumper” is an episode from season 9 where Spongebob is trying to acquire his license through Mrs. Puffs’ boating school. As he is taking a boating course, he crashes into many obstacles and crashes into his bright orange pineapple house. He continues the course but combined with a lack of focus and anxiety, he egregiously fails. (And spoiler alert, he does not end up getting his license). “No Free Rides” is another episode from season 2 where Spongebob is finishing his last boating exam of the year, but he fails because he ran over the French narrator. In determination to not have him as a student again next year, Mrs. Puff reluctantly passes him and gives him his license. As she gets home, she soon realizes the grave danger she is putting the Bikini Bottom community in by giving him his license and makes it her sole mission to steal his car and revoke his license. While I could spend my whole day talking about Spongebob Squarepants episodes, one element remains the same throughout the season. His terrible driving skills. While these elements and episodes are something I laughed at as a kid, in the real world outside of a life of talking sea creatures, driving safety is a very important and serious topic.
Spongebob lacked driver safety partially because of the lack of driver education he received from Mrs. Puff. She was in such a hurry most of the episode to get away from him, that she never really taught him anything valuable. Driver education is extremely important in reducing the number of deaths as a result of driving because it creates aware, focused, and reactive drivers and creates healthy driving habits. Knowledge is power but it can also save lives in the realm of driving which is why it is so important in reducing deaths and accidents. Driver education includes basic skills like parking, parallel parking, braking, using turn signals, and more. Not only does driver education help on the road, but it also helps off the road. Drivers educated on what warning sounds and symbols to hear and look out for, how often their oil needs to be changed, what to do when in case of brake or tire failure, and more can help prevent a driver from panic and confusion when these issues arise. Driver education also includes talks on insurance, coverage, and the recklessness of being an uninsured driver. It can also include many overlooked, yet important topics like sharing the road with motorcyclists and large trucks.
Like Mrs. Puff, I have my own experience with drivers in my life who tend to drive like Spongebob. When I ride with my dad, he tends to be an aggressive driver and an elderly woman suffered because of it. Patterns like these need to be broken because I realized he was teaching my younger sister the same aggressive tactics he uses on the road. Some ways that I and others can break this pattern is through cost-friendly driver education courses. Similarly to how driving is a privilege, the education to learn how to drive is too. Minority backgrounds and people in poorer communities might not have the resources or funds to attend a $200 defensive driving course. The DMV might not be near people who live in rural areas making it a longer and costly trip to receive information from them. A nearby community or nonprofit organization could host a free or low-cost driver education night where the public can be educated on all types of road safety, driver safety, and car safety. Social media has taken over this day and age as well, and people are consumed and informed by what they see. More ads on the true risks and effects that driving risky has on people and informative tidbits and information are ways to make driver education accessible and also reduce driver-related deaths. Some ways that I personally can reduce this pattern is by not being ashamed or embarrassed to call out mutual friends or family when I notice them driving recklessly. Criticism today could save a life tomorrow, so it is important I use my voice, especially with people that I know because they are more prone to listen to me.
While there is a fine line between cartoon shows and realities, there still are some similarities. People, themes, messages, and more are what we view as entertainment that can teach us valuable lessons. In this under the sea world, in the Bikini Bottom community, Spongebob Squarepants probably represents a lot of people that we share the road with. Whether it be intentional or just bad nerves, there are also a lot of people like Mrs. Puff in our lives who have the knowledge of driver education but don’t want to share it. Driver safety and education are important in preventing very preventable accidents and deaths. When people get on the road, they have a plan to get to a specific destination and reckless driving can stop that plan and possibly change the course of their entire life. When more people are educated and driver education becomes more accessible, defensive drivers, smart drivers, alert drivers, reactive drivers, and SAFE drivers are produced. And just a spoiler alert, for the safety of everyone in Bikini Bottom, Spongebob Squarepants never receives his license. So, if a fictitious sea community knows how important driver education and safety is, America can too.