Experience and the Young Driver

Every year thousands of young people tragically die as a result of motor vehicle accidents. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers each year. More than one-third of teen deaths are caused by motor vehicle accidents – a frightening statistic indeed. According to the CDC young men between 16 and 19 years old, those driving with passengers and newly licensed drivers are at highest risk of motor vehicle accidents.

Factors such as lower seatbelt use and high alcohol consumption are linked to many teenage fatalities. However, the CDC’s research indicates a lack of driving experience, or time behind the wheel, is closely linked to motor vehicle deaths. Not surprisingly, teen drivers with limited driving experience do not recognize hazards, or do not recognize them quickly enough to avoid many accidents. Moreover, young people, especially young men, tend to drive faster and leave themselves less distance to brake than more experienced drivers.

To reduce driving fatalities among young people, many states have implemented what are called “graduated drivers licenses” or GDLs, which permit inexperienced drivers to operate motor vehicles only under lower-risk conditions such as during day light hours or with only one passenger (and hence, limited distractions), until they become more experienced. According to CDC, the use of GDLs have dramatically reduced deaths among inexperienced drivers.

In addition to government efforts to reduce teen motor vehicle fatalities, there are things that young people and their parents can do to better equip teens to be safe drivers. Drivers education classes, for example, which are provided to high school students in North Carolina through their schools, give young drivers opportunities to gain valuable driving experience in a low-risk environment under the supervision of an instructor. Driving schools, where inexperienced drivers are actually confront real-life hazards, such as hydroplaning and simulated drunk driving in controlled environments, are very beneficial in helping teens to understand the gravity of these hazards and the potentially deadly outcomes. My own teenager came home from a morning at driving school recently, gushing about what she had learned and how the course had brought to life hazards that had previously been in her mind only theoretical. (As any parent of a teenager knows, any time a young person confesses that they actually learned something it is a notable occasion).

One of the most frightening days in a parent’s life is the day that teenager drives off in a vehicle by herself for the first time. Parental instruction, drivers education, safety courses and limiting the hours that new drivers are allowed to operate vehicles until they have some experience under their belts will ensure that that she comes home safely.