My views on Teen Driving…
Toward the end of 2008 I was contacted by a teen, a student from a high school in Atlanta, Georgia, to answer nine questions in regards to a report she was doing on Teen Driving. Here are the questions, followed by my answers:
Dear Ms. Zech,
In your research in the driving safety, I am writing to ask for your valued opinion on the safety of teenage driving. I am a junior at Warner Robins High School, and as an assignment, I am required to seek information from an authority on teenage driving. I will greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to answer the following questions to the best of your ability and have them completed by the fourth of February (09) since I have a set deadline.
Your expert opinion on teenage driving will add credibility to my research and is greatly appreciated.
Thank you very much for contacting me – I’d be happy to answer your questions. .
In answer to:
1) What is the one driving danger or distraction for teen drivers that you hear most about today?
My Answer: I understand that you are asking for the “top” distraction, but may I answer it with the top “two” distractions – the distraction of cell phones (talking on a cell or text messaging) – the 2nd, the distraction of friends in the vehicle. The use of cell phones, whether talking or texting, has been proven to be a “deadly distraction” – it’s been compared to being under the influence of 2 to 3 beers. Friends in the vehicle: it’s found, for every friend you put in your vehicle, you increase the danger of having a tragic collision. More friends – more reckless…a tendency to show-off.
2) Do you think that sixteen year olds are ready to be driving by themselves?
My Answer: 16 year old drivers? Well, because of what we see. We would rather the age limit be 18 years of age to drive a vehicle, but it greatly depends on the maturity level of the teen. There are some teens that actually wait until they’re eighteen, sometimes even older. Some teens are more mature than others. But 18 seems to be the age when there’s a maturity level to make better decisions behind the wheel. Then again, even older drivers make poor choices.
3) What is your oppinion on Joshua’s Law? Should teenagers be required to participate in this program?
My Answer: Joshua’s Law is the same law in California we call a “Provisional driver’s license” carrying restrictions during the first year of driving under 18. Both laws are designed to increase your chances of survival behind the wheel through “experience.” The more “behind the wheel experience” – the better the driver to handle various situations they encounter. Your law requires 40 hours of supervised driving, California law requires 50 hours. I highly recommend teens take full advantage of this law if they want to increase their chances of survival during their teenage years of driving and beyond. Both laws require experience driving at night. Teens are more apt to be involved in a collision during the evening hours. Thanks to our law in California we saw a 24% drop in deaths among teen drivers.
4) Would raising the driving age make them any less the novice with their maturation? Explain.
My Answer: It’s assumed the older the wiser…the older, the more mature your decision making. But every teen is different. Some teens recognize for themselves whether they’re ready to handle driving at age 16, 17 or 18. Especially as they see their younger friends killed and/or injured in crashes due to reckless driving. This often makes many teens realize how precious and fragile life is – thus becoming more responsible.
5) Describe some of the carnage you have witnessed on the job or you have heard about, dealing with teenage drivers.
My Answer: Speed and/or driving under the influence – those are major factors in the crashes I’ve seen. In October of 2004 we had a crash involving three 17-year-olds males. All had been drinking as they celebrated the birthday of one of teens turning 17. In the evening hours they caused a minor collision then raced off to avoid being caught. While racing away they ran a red light and were struck broadside by a large truck who had the green light. In the impact the 17 year-old, whose birthday they were celebrating, was ejected. Due to their speed this caused a sling-shot effect thrusting the teen head first into a fire hydrant at the corner. Fire hydrants are made to break off at the base making them easier to repair when a vehicle runs into it – but in this case, the teen knocked over the fire hydrant with his head. Without getting too graphic in print – it basically knocked off the top of his head above his eyebrows and was of course killed.
Quite often, in crashes involving speed/street racing, these crashes often result in occupants being crushed beyond recognition. A recent crash involved an 18 year-old losing control, going off the roadway into trees and his car bursting into flames – the impact killed him first – not the resulting fire.
*What people don’t realize – vehicles are made for transportation only – not crashing. Only NASCARS are built for crashing. For every 10mph -this is equal to a one-story fall impact. An 80mph crash is equal to an 8 story fall. For every 10 mph over 50mph – you’ve doubled your chances of dying in a crash.
6) Do you think that better traffic safety laws should be enforced?
My Answer: All laws, especially traffic laws, are made for the “safety” of all motorists and pedestrians. When a problem (causing injury & death) is recognized – a law is made to stop this problem from causing more injury and death. When we ignore these laws – the result is either a citation, a collision, possible injury or death. We passed the cell phone law in California after traffic collision investigations found 60% of our crashes were cell phone related.
7) Before my accident, I thought, I won’t ever get in a car accident. That won’t ever happen to me. Do you think that most new inexperienced teen drivers are thinking the same thing?
My Answer: Exactly. I keep hearing people say teens think they’re invincible. But no matter what age, although we hear of others being involved in crashes, we never think it will happen to us – until it does. For teens, despite hearing about other teens being involved in crashes and dying, they think “they’ll” do better at handling a speeding vehicle – or “they’ll” be different and can handle drinking and driving – that shows immaturity with youth. But, I also see that same type of thought process among adults.
8) If there is one thing you would want all teen drivers to know, what would it be?
My Answer: One thing? Hmmm – sorry, how about one long statement. What I would tell teens is what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced in my work -and in my own family.
REMEMBER the following: The number one cause of death for teens is traffic collisions. But most will die as passengers. Think of your life, your safety. NEVER get into a car with someone who is reckless, sleepy or under the influence of any drug, especially alcohol. ANY amount of alcohol consumed, no matter what age, should be considered dangerous behind the wheel. Remember that alcohol is a drug – a depressant. On the very first sip of alcohol it’s in your blood system within 6 seconds – immediately impairing your reaction time and judgment. Two important things you need to be a good driver…or operate any machinery.
Don’t risk and/or ruin your life like others before you – STAY AWAY FROM ALL DRUGS. You only have one brain and one body – protect them.
The worse vehicle to drive: motorcycles! No protection except a full helmet. But, if you strike an object with your torso you will most likely die, lose a limb or become paralyzed. To increase your chances of survival – follow laws made for your safety – wear your seat belts and be 100% alert behind the wheel. Also realize that being sleepy behind the wheel is just as dangerous as driving under the influence. Both conditions cause “fixation” – as you look at an object, a tree or bicyclist, you’ll drive right into that object without realizing it. The most dangerous of all roadway areas “intersections” – this is due to red light runners and STOP sign runners. In working for a police and fire department – our number one 9-1-1 call – “traffic collisions”. Be alert – be safe! Most of the collisions EMS respond to occur at intersections.
The dangers I’ve seen are professional and personal – my father was killed as a pedestrian by a DUI driver on June 5, 1992 – so I know what it’s like to lose someone you love. (The DUI driver was a 23 year-old man – it was his 4th DUI arrest when he killed my father and was sentenced to a mere 4 years in prison.) Then on February 10, 2005 my daughter was hit by a DUI driver. But, because my daughter was alert and saw her coming she was able to steer away from a “direct side impact” and suffered minor injuries. (This DUI driver was a 17 year-old female driver, with no license or insurance. This DUI driver is now prevented from getting a driver’s license until age 21.) A year after this crash my daughter graduated from paramedic school, and a month later married a young man she met prior to paramedic prep school. Both are paramedics and love their jobs. Saving lives runs in the family.
9) Should Driver’s Ed be offered in school?
My Answer: YES! Some teens wait until they’re 18 so they don’t have to take a driver education course. That is most often a fatal mistake. That means they have little or no experience when it comes to driving. A driver education course should be mandatory. Videos and experienced speakers, like myself and law enforcement, can make a big difference in educating teens on the real dangers of our roadways.
I’m very passionate about saving lives – so my answers were probably longer than you wanted. But I hope my information is helpful.
One more comment – as parents, we’d like to see our children grow up to achieve their goals, career and/or marry. I’ve met many-many-many parents who never got to see their children get past their teens due to deaths involving traffic collisions. Losing a child is one of the worst things a person can experience.
Thank you very much for contacting me. I am honored you contacted me. I hope my answers provide an eye-opening impact in “driving home” the message. Below is some additional data on Teen Driving.
Most Sincerely & Stay Safe,
Here is some research information regarding teen driving:
First note the following research:
Crash patterns for teen drivers are alarming. Studies regularly show that:
- Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among teens in the United States. In California alone, nearly 20,000 teen drivers are injured or killed every year.
- Teen drivers are in a far higher proportion of crashes than expected, given their relatively small percentage of the entire driving population.
- Teen fatal crashes take place far more commonly during late night hours than expected, given their relatively limited nighttime driving.
- Teen passengers are at a far greater risk in vehicles driven by other teen drivers than in vehicles driven by older, more experienced drivers.