Keeping young drivers safe on the road

Staff Report

Teenagers typically anticipate the moment they receive their drivers’ licenses, feeling their personal freedom increases dramatically in such moments.

While drivers’ licenses may be liberating for teen drivers, parents may be considerably less excited when their children pass their drivers’ tests. Driving is a big responsibility and one that requires both concentration and maturity. Seemingly innocent things can turn pleasurable car rides into accidents.

Although driving education programs, testing and practice behind the wheel are required before kids can receive their drivers’ licenses, it takes more than classes, tests and limited practice for teens to become competent drivers. The National Center for Health Statistics says motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds. Statistics show that teen death rates increase with each additional passenger. Plus, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 53 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths among teenagers in 2012, the most recent year for data collection, occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight.

Considering one in five 16-year-old drivers has an accident within their first year of driving, according to statistics compiled by, teen drivers may need more supervision and instruction. The following are some risks on the road to consider when educating teens.

• All calls are risky. Turn off phones when in the car. The National Safety Council says more than 30 studies show hands-free devices are no safer because the brain remains distracted by the conversation. When talking on a cell phone, drivers can miss seeing up to half of their surroundings, including traffic lights, stop signs and pedestrians. Younger, less experienced drivers may be even more distracted by phone calls.

• Slow down. Crash risks for teens increase incrementally with each mile per hour over the speed limit. Speeding reduces drivers’ ability to avoid an accident, and new drivers may not be as capable of avoiding obstacles that come into their paths.

• Go sparingly on passengers. The risk for automobile accidents increases with each additional passengers teens have in their cars. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the risk increases 44 percent with one passenger, doubles with two passengers and quadruples with three or more passengers. Friends in the backseat can prove very distracting or may even encourage young drivers to engage in risky behaviors.

• Avoid other distractions. In addition to phones and too many passengers, teens are distracted by looking things in their own vehicle. For example, singing and dancing to music can distract teens’ attention from the road. In addition, some teens may tend to personal grooming when behind the wheel, further taking their attention away from the road.

Getting a driver’s license is a milestone event in the lives of teenagers, but one they should not take for granted. Good drivers are not born, but developed through practice, avoiding distractions and adhering to the rules and regulations that govern the roads.

Staff Report