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Teen driving – The Chaos and The Cure

The teen driver have seen many changes in driving restrictions over the years but these restrictions have not curbed fatalities and injuries among drivers ages 16 -18 years old.

1. History of the driver’s license and teen driving statistics
a. History of the driver’s license
b. Teen fatality statistics
c. The effects of ten driver accidents
2. The reason for teen driver error
a. Immaturity
b. Changes in drivers education
c. Speeding and not wearing a seat belt
d. Alcohol
e. Distraction
f. Cell phones
3. Laws and measure taken to curb teen driver accidents
a. Graduated driving laws
b. Cell Phone ban
4. The future of teen drivers.
a. The black box
b. Stricter parenting

Teen driving – the chaos and the cure
Teenagers dream of the day when they will receive their license and take a step closer to independence and gaining freedom from their parents. It is the rite of passage that many fifteen year olds yearn for. We count the days to our 16th birthday, waiting to make a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles to receive our permit. It is exciting, exhilarating and just the mere thought of racing down the country roads makes our spine tingle…Freedom! We all remember those months leading up to getting our permits but in those first days behind the wheel do we think about the number of deaths and accidents that occur due to teen driving? The number of families destroyed, futures cut short all because that excitement we feel takes us over and turns our impressionable 16 year old into a reckless, irresponsible drivers. The government has implemented laws to curb this problem but to no avail. I will deal with the following questions. What causes teen driving to be the no. 1 killer in America? Are the laws implemented by the government sufficient? What more can be done?
Automobile crashes are the no. 1 killers of teens in the United States says Martha Irvine the author of the article Campaigns, Laws Try to Curb Deadly Teen Wrecks. She goes on to add “thousands of driving-age teens still die in crashes each year.” (1) The statistic don’t lie, the Centre for Disease Control reiterates Irvine’s claim “In 2008 nine teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries.” Katie Thomas in her article Teens: Safer Drivers Ahead? points out an interesting percentage “Drivers aged 15 to 20 comprise only 7 percent of licensed drivers nationwide, but about 14 percent of all highway fatalities” (2) Taking into account these staggering factors there is no doubt that teen driving is a definite problem.
In the United States, teenagers drive less than all but the oldest people, but their numbers of crashes and crash deaths are disproportionately high. In South and North Dakota, Idaho, Iowa, Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, and Montana the legal age to apply for a permit is 14 yrs and 6 months. Is a 14 yr old too immature to handle an automobile? Research conducted by the National Institute of Health thinks so “The part of the brain that weighs risks and controls impulsive behavior isn’t fully developed until about age 25.” In another article, “Keeping Teen Drivers Alive: What Can Be Done to Fight the No. 1 Cause of Death in Youths?” Temple University psychologist Steinberg writes “the brain of a 15 or 16 year old had the ability to be logical in reasoning but since his mind’s social and emotional development is relatively immature.” “He finds risk and thrill seeking attractive which makes him vulnerable to distraction and peer pressure.(2)” What exactly is going on in the teen brain that makes the driver more vulnerable to crashing, “no one knows for sure,” Steinberg said. “But it is likely due to the combination of a relatively more activated brain system that propels individuals toward sensation-seeking and impulsive behavior and a still immature brain system that helps individuals regulate emotions and behavior.”
Mellissa Savage in her article Surviving Driving says “20 percent of 16-year-olds are involved in an accident during their first year of driving.”(3) The first year of driving is the most critical part of a new driver education behind the wheel but as the economy is in a slump many schools have had to pull back the funds directed to drivers education. This leaves it up to the parents to either teach the child or send them to a driver education class at a commercial driving school. Commercial driving schools could cost $350 to $700, leaving the parents who cannot afford these classes to teach their child. Even for those who can do it, the combination of parents, teenagers and learning how to drive can be volatile. Parents may find a way past a volatile environment that is created by being your child’s teacher, but the informal teaching methods will pass on the bad habits from the parent to the child as the parents have no guide lines that need to be followed as an instructor teaching drivers education would.
Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next). The presence of male teenage passengers increases the likelihood of this risky driving behavior. Of male drivers killed between 15 and 20 years of age 38% were speeding .A common cause of teen driver accidents is speeding, as soon as a teen gets behind the wheel the words “I have the need, a need for speed” can be heard echoing in his head. Therefore it’s not a surprise that teens are more likely to speed and tailgate and less likely to wear seat belts than older drivers. Compared with other age groups; teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use. In 2005, 10% of high school students reported they rarely or never wear seat belts when driving or riding with someone else.
Underage drinking has been a problem for many years. A drunk teen behind a wheel of car leads to lethal combination. Historically, most states had drinking ages of 21 after the end of Prohibition in 1933. However, from 1970 to 1975, more than half dropped it to 18 after baby boomers argued that if they could be drafted to fight in Vietnam; they should be allowed to drink. Then, after a campaign by Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD) and several studies describing teenage drinking as an epidemic, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. It required states to raise the age to 21 within two years or lose part of their federal aid for highways. This has not stopped the high school or college kids from finding ways to get alcohol. Of male drivers killed between 15 and 20 years of age, 24% had been drinking and driving. About 23% of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in car crashes had a Blood Alcohol Counts of 0.08 or higher. Even after the awareness has been raised about teen drinking driving about 30% of teens reported within the previous 30 days, they had been a passenger in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol and one in 10 teens said they personally had driven after drinking alcohol.
Inexperienced teen drivers are more easily distracted than others. Behind the wheel they are less likely to recognize and react quickly to dangerous driving conditions. New drivers, particularly young men, often show off and are prone to taking risks. Distracted driving is a catchall term says Stephanie Hanes.” all sorts of behavior behind the wheel, from eating to applying makeup to texting” she says can be found primarily in teen drivers. She goes on to say “A distracted driver has what psychologists call “inattention blindness”–the brain does not process what is physically within eyesight, such as a red light.”(4) Arizona representative Steve Farley who is trying to get bills passed to curb teen driver distraction says “Distracted driving can be as impairing as drunk driving. It’s been a big problem here and I knew that I had do something about it. “
When the cell phone was first introduced there was no doubt it made our lives much easier, the flexibility and the convenience. The cell phone is no longer a device used to make phone calls, with the added feature of texting, instant messaging, applications for facebook and other social networks it has become a must have for teenagers. Teens from ages of 12 to 19 are often inseparable from the extended arm, this obsession with their cell phone does not end when they get behind the wheel, it continues. Stephanie Hanes in her article Texting While Driving: The New Drunk Driving writes “Study upon study showed talking on a cell phone while driving was far more dangerous than she’d realized–that a driver on a phone had the same reaction speed as someone legally intoxicated, those talking on a phone behind the wheel are four times as likely to crash, that texting while driving is even more dangerous. And studies repeatedly showed that hands-free headsets–sometimes advertised as safer-were no less dangerous.”(2)
In order to curb teen driver accidents 32 states in the last year have passed 80 different amendments and laws. The most promising law that was passed in recent years passed in Florida in 1996, the Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) laws. It’s a system designed to phase in young beginners to full driving privileges as they become more mature and develop their driving skills. There are 3 stages to a graduated system: a supervised learner’s period; an intermediate license (after passing the driver test) which limits driving in high-risk situations except under supervision; and then a license with full privileges, available after completing the first 2 stages. The best systems include a learner’s stage beginning at age 16 and lasting at least 6 months, 30 or more hours of supervised driving, plus restrictions on unsupervised night driving and passengers during the first 6 to 12 months of licensure. The nighttime driving restriction should start at 9 or 10 p.m., and no more than 1 teen passenger should be allowed any time of day. There has been a considerable drop in fatalities and injuries among 15 – 17 yr old drivers after the inception of the Graduated driver’s license. (GDL)
Other notable laws have been incepted are the cell phone law. More states are now banning the use of cell phones in order to curb the number of accidents caused by texting or talking on phone the while driving. Teens have prohibition on non-emergency use of cell phones and other communications devices until age 19. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles driver 16 to 17 yr olds must wear a seat belt or be fined if found without one. A mere $15 fine in the past has now been raised to $75.
What else can we do to curb teen fatalities and accidents? New innovations to monitor teen driving habits have been devised but not yet for sale. 0ne such device is the black box, similar to the black box found in a plane. Robert Davis writes of the black box “it records data like the car’s speed and growls warnings when the driver is going too fast or turning too hard. Parents can check the box later and see for themselves just how fast their teen-ager was driving.” Teens may not like being monitored but it may save lives. Sharon Silke Carty believes in approaching teen drivers with a more traditional method she says “Parents play an important role in curbing bad teen driving. It’s proven that stricter rules enforced positively have lowered teen accidents. “(2) She goes on to say “Teens who say their parents are actively involved cut their risk of drinking and driving by 70%, are half as likely to speed and 30% less likely to use a cell phone.” (2) Diane Lynn writes of a family “Our local pediatrician and his wife, parents of seven, take a different approach: They pay their children $2,000 each NOT to drive alone until turning 18. This money would be approximately the cost of insurance if the teenager were driving. Instead, it is applied to the purchase of a car when the child turns 18.”(1) Not a practical approach in every family’s circumstance but an innovative way to give your child incentive to put off driving till he better equipped to handle it.
The chaos caused by teen driving fatalities or accidents is undeniable but is the government doing enough to curb this problem? I don’t think so. The graduating drivers license is a start but if we don’t take into consideration we are placing a huge responsibility in the hands of a teen whose brain will not be fully developed till he is 25 we will not find a cure to this problem. So why with all these various studies being done is the legal age to obtain a drivers permit in 7 out of 50 state still 14yrs and 6 months? Parents would like not to drive their children everywhere. Teens would like to have their independence but unless a driver has the education, the willingness and support of parents willing to monitor and instill good driving habits in their children. A 16 yr old should not be given the keys to the car. The chaos rages on and unless radical moves are made to curb teen driver accidents a will not be found.

Work Cited
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Thomas, Katie. “Teens: Safer Drivers Ahead?” Newsday (Long Island, NY) Oct. 4 1998: A7+.
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Irvine, Martha. “Campaigns, Laws Try to Curb Deadly Teen Wrecks.” Las Vegas Review-
Journal (Las Vegas, NV) 13 May 2001: 3A+. SIRS Researcher. Web. 21 March 2010.
O’Donnell, Jayne. “If a Teen’s at the Wheel, Crashes Fit a Pattern.” USA Today Feb. 28 2005:
n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 21 March 2010.
Gregory, Ted, and John McCormick. “Keeping Teen Drivers Alive: What Can Be Done to Fight
the No. 1…” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL) 05 Mar 2006: n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 21
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Savage, Melissa. “Teen Driver Tune-Up.” State Legislatures Vol. 35 No. 8 Sep 2009: 20-21.
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Sundeen, Matt. “Driving While Distracted.” State Legislatures Vol. 34 No. 5 May 2008: 20-21.
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Hanes, Stephanie. “Texting While Driving: The New Drunk Driving.” Christian Science Monitor
05 Nov 2009: n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 21 March 2010.
Davis, Robert. “Teen at Wheel Makes Driving Doubly Deadly.” USA Today July 5-7 2002: 1A-
2A. SIRS Researcher. Web. 21 March 2010.’s_license_in_the_United_States