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
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
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
e a day, as I did, like March, 4th, 2008.
by Elizabeth Przybylinski
Barnum Essay Winner and
Lions Club Winner 2008