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Barnum Essay Winner - 2008

March 4th, 2008 had to be one of the worst days I can remember. The night before, an eighteen year old and his seventeen year old passenger died in a Wilbur Cross Parkway crash. If it had been any other teen, my response would have been, “Teenage drivers are so irresponsible,” though I count myself in that group. But this time the driver was an old friend, one I graduated from elementary school with. I couldn't imagine how it had happened, and I was shocked that someone I knew, who was so young, could already be dead. Francesk and his friend are the sixth and seventh Connecticut teens that have died in car crashes this year, “compared to 14 in 2006 and 15 in 2007”.

Governor Jodi Rell was quoted in a March 5th, 2008 Connecticut Post article, saying “we are facing a crisis among teenage drivers… [which] calls for quick, decisive, legislative action”. However, action needs to be taken not only through the government, but also by schools and parents to ensure the safety and lives of teen drivers. This issue is not isolated to our area in Fairfield County, or Connecticut, but is a nationwide crisis. A study done by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm found that “car crashes are the leading cause of deaths for tweens and teens”. “2.5 million children aged 8 to 17 were involved in crashes and 9,807 died” between the years of 2000 and 2005. Stats like this stem from no seat belts, passenger distraction, inexperience, and immaturity.

These devastating statistics have led many state legislators to institute graduated driver’s licenses. At least 34 states and the District of Columbia have introduced this regulation. Generally the law states that teens must have their permit for at least six months and be no younger than 16 years old. Then, they have “at least six months with a provisional license, which restricts passengers and late-night driving”. In addition, teens must have “as many as fifty hours of parent-supervised drive time...at all times of the day, in all weather, and on roads ranging from country to freeway”. Such measures will give the teens more experience.

But how are these rules to be enforced? The police can not pull over every teen driver because they may or may not be violating teen driving laws. This would be a waste of time and ineffective. So who is qualified for the job? A study reported on in Futurist found that parents influence children, even when they may not be aware of it. The study discovered that “teens whose parents had three or more crashes on their record were 22% more likely to crash at least once, compared with teens whose parents had never crashed”. Being aware of such risks will allow parents to better train their children when making decisions about driving.

Donna Graf, a Tampa, Florida mom is a perfect example of parents looking after their teen drivers. Concerned with her 17-year-old son’s driving, “she launched a national campaign to get irresponsible teen drivers off the streets” through the program “Go-Get-Mom”. This uses bumper stickers that contain a toll-free number on them that other drivers can call and place a complaint, which parents received within five seconds. The program has been quite successful for Graf, who said she only received one complaint about her son since she put a bumper sticker on his car. Although some kids may feel this is invading their privacy, it is protection.

But waiting to take action until after the teen has acquired his license is not smart. Therefore, to help teens make safe decisions while driving, some lawmakers have acknowledged “the need to focus on driver training, not age restrictions” as is pointed out in an USA Today article. They argue that although graduated licensing programs have been established as a solution to teen accidents, the results have remained “virtually unchanged.”

The real solution comes from training that focuses on “skill development and the ability to exercise good judgments”. Such can be found by attending driver’s education classes. However, because of the financial costs and time conflicts, many teen are not able to get this beneficial training. It would be convenient indeed if driver’s education was again offered in schools. Lawmakers agree, stating that such in-school courses should be funded rather than simply “rely[ing] on graduated licenses”.

In a New York Times article, Merri Rosenberg reports on the driver’s education classes provided at Rye High School in New York. Students are given “an additional six hours beyond the state’s require[ment of] 24 classroom hours, covering various road-related topics. They also take field trips to see demonstrations and have visiting speakers who have been personally affected by car accidents. All this is done “as a convenience to students”. This opportunity has made better drivers out of the Rye High School students.

Even a father in Britain acknowledged the importance of driver’s education in schools. Nick Rowley, a father of three boys, founded the a2om academy, “Britain’s first university-affiliated driving school” after realizing that his sons’ scholastic achievements would not protect them from car crashes. The program focuses on behavior and attitude, which they believe “cause accidents [rather] than lack of technical skill”. If parents are sure their kids are getting the most effective driver’s training, they can rest assured that their children will get home safely.

The Government Road Safety Strategy Review is quoted as saying in a Spectator article that, “the time has come to reform fundamentally the way people learn to drive. We need to do more than tinker…We need to overhaul the current system”. Any of the aforementioned programs would be beneficial in training teens to drive. So I urge legislators to work together with the parents and the school systems. The minimum age can be changed again and again. But if proper driving education is not given, a person will never be a good driver, no matter his age.

Only through those programs will teens realize that driving is a serious responsibility and not just something given to them once they reach a certain age. The teen crash rate will decrease if action is taken now in order to make the roads safe for teens and everyone else. Legislators need only think about their own drive to work, or about their kids’ or grandkids’ drive to school. I’m sure they do not want to experienc! e a day, as I did, like March, 4th, 2008.

by Elizabeth Przybylinski
Barnum Essay Winner and
Lions Club Winner 2008