Licensed to Put Us All at-Risk?

This NY Times article about new drivers learning how to operate a vehicle caught my attention because 1) I have never really thought too much about this topic as a public health issue and 2) My 16-year-old sister recently got her driver’s license in October and I try to make sure she is well-informed and safe.  She went through the same process as I did to qualify for a license: driver’s ed (classroom and behind the wheel), hours of supervised driving, and a minimum of 6 months with a driver’s permit.  I always assumed this was standard for most states, but apparently some states allow children as young as 14 years old to begin driving with a permit, which seems awfully young.

If the rate of vehicle-related accidents is so high for the teenage age group, then it could be beneficial to pay more attention to this matter and evaluate what is the best process for learning to drive and being qualified for a license.  From my own experience, I think that the process I went through provided a decent base from which to work off of, but practice in real situations was definitely needed.  States that have passed laws making the license process more extensive have seen a 30% decrease in teenage highway fatalities.  Adding more supervised driving hours, limiting the number of passengers allowed in the car of a teenage driver, and increasing the driving age are just a few examples of these laws.  Those states have been successful thus far in their attempts to increase safety on the roads, so why not make changes nationally?

Teenage vehicle accidents are typically caused by errors like scanning mistakes and misjudging the speed of oncoming cars when turning left.   Another suggestion for increasing safe driving is “narrative driving,” which entails parents explaining to their teenage passengers exactly what they do as they drive, bringing attention to actions that are second nature to experienced drivers but unknown to newbies.  In the classroom, rules of the road can be taught memorized, but application is something that needs to be experienced.  By having parents or adult drivers explain how to drive, student drivers are exposed to more in-depth information for a variety of situations and driving skills.

Another major cause of teenage accidents is misjudging road conditions.  Taking a student driver out on the road in different weather conditions and at various points in the day allows for a more holistic training.  Parents often limit practice to the most optimal driving conditions.  By doing so, newly licensed teenagers will be more at risk for an accident if they are alone when they face harsh or difficult conditions for the first time.  Steering on icy roads and avoiding hydroplaning are two skills that require specific instruction.  Without knowledge of how to handle these situations, young drivers can place themselves and others in great danger.

In the U.S., learning to drive is a right of passage into young adulthood.  Based on statistics, it is also very risky and potentially fatal.  Passing laws to facilitate a safer learning experience and taking the time to teach student drivers in an active manner can save many lives and create a better environment on the roads.

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