Judge Andrew B. Ferrari speaks with authority -- slowly, loudly and emphatically. He has given this speech to thousands of people hundreds of times. He needs no notes. Instead, he looks hard at his audience, scanning the room, meeting the upraised eyes. In the audience, there is not a sound.
"Do I think 16 is too young to drive?" he asked the group, looking around. "Yes. It is too young."
Lack of experience, Ferrari tells the group, is the one big negative.
"Some young people can make an automobile sing, dance and whistle," he said. "But can they make a decision? Can they make value judgments?"
For more than 18 years, the judge in Arlington's Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has been talking to Arlington teen-agers who are about to receive their drivers licenses, telling them the importance of common sense and good habits when it comes to driving an automobile.
Three Wednesday afternoons a month, six months a year, Ferrari gives a 40-minute lecture in his courtroom to between 40 and 80 teen-agers and their parents. In Virginia, the law requires anyone under the age of 18 who is getting a license to attend such a lecture with a parent or guardian.
The lecture concludes a licensing process that involves a mandatory driving course and parental permission to take a driving test at the age of 16.
Once they pass that test, the teen-agers have 90 days to attend the lecture.
Last year, more than 900 minors were issued licenses in Arlington. Since Ferrari is one of two judges to conduct the license ceremonies in the county, roughly half of the teen-agers heard his advice.
"I don't think the principles I speak about change," Ferrari told a group of 16- and 17-year-olds and their parents at a recent Wednesday session.
"I'm not here to give you statistics. I'm going to talk about attitudes and responsibilities," he said.
Ferrari thinks most accidents are caused by human error. The trick to reducing accidents, he says, lies in experience -- in learning to do something right the first time and doing it over and over again until it becomes habit.
Driving a car, Ferrari believes, is no exception.
Although nothing quite makes up for experience, he believes, some things, such as good information, concentration and the right attitude, can help compensate for the lack of it.
Ferrari estimates that city drivers today are called upon to make decisions about every 30 seconds.
"It is my opinion that in almost all accidents, somebody makes a mistake," he said.
"As long as man is a little below the angels he will always make mistakes.
"What you do is to try to reduce the mistakes," he said. "You do this by doing a thing over and over again and getting in the habit of doing it right. You can't get it from a book. You can't take a pill. It takes time.
"Concentrate on what you are doing," he urged. "When you are driving the automobile, drive the automobile. Concentrate. Think about what you are doing at all times."
In his talk, Ferrari spends no more than 90 seconds on one of the most publicized of today's car topics.
"Drinking and driving," he thundered. "It's not negotiable. Forget about it. I don't want to hear any ifs, ands or buts. That's the way it is. Period. It's not negotiable. It can't be done. The laws are getting stricter and stricter, as they should, and you will pay the penalty if you do it."
After 18 years of talking to new drivers, Ferrari admits he doesn't know exactly how effective his words are.
As a whole, though, he believes the idea of the ceremony is a good one.
"I think the majority of people, particularly the parents, are happy about it," he said.
So, at least, are some of the new drivers.
"I did learn quite a bit," said Gordon Moore, who heard Ferrari earlier this month. "It all made sense -- what he said."
"Before I went there I would speed a lot," said Moore, a 16-year-old junior at Wakefield High School. "It just helped my general all-around attention.
"He was just telling it like it was," Moore added. "Not so much like an authority figure. More along the lines of an older friend."