by Norraine Wingfield
They probably don’t want to hear it and they may not believe it, but the fact remains teen drivers are some of the most dangerous drivers on the road. It is a fact: Teens are disproportionately represented in both crashes and fatalities despite the fact they drive less than all other groups in the U.S., other than our oldest drivers. The crash rate per mile driven for teens is four times that of older drivers. The younger and less experienced the driver, the greater their risk of crashing.
In Kansas, teen drivers (age 15-19) were involved in 15,478 traffic crashes in 2008, which resulted in 51 fatalities across the state. Teens of that age group were also speeding in more crashes than any other group and sadly enough, these minors were involved in 397 alcohol-related incidents resulting in 13 fatalities.
So what’s the real problem? Well, it is inexperience coupled with reckless behavior. A teen driver’s lack of experience equates to a lack of skills on the road, and unfortunately teens are more likely to be distracted, to speed and too often make poor decisions regarding driving under the influence.
The solution isn’t keeping teens off the road. Teen drivers, like all drivers, need to gain experience to better their skills. But what we can do is support and enforce graduated licensing systems designed to help teens become better drivers.
Kansas passed a graduated driver’s licensing law in 2009 which will go into effect on January 1, 2010. This law essentially provides three stages of licensing: a learner’s period, a restricted period and a full license sans restrictions.
The restrictions provided under different stages of this law require supervised driving, limit the number of passengers, limit where teens may drive and when they may drive, and prohibit the use of wireless communication devices. Teens must also wear a seat belt at all times, as provided in the Safety Belt Use Act already in effect.
We hope this new system will prevent needless crashes, injuries and deaths on Kansas roadways. Evaluations of graduated licensing in other states have consistently shown these practices reduce the risk of crashes. We owe it to our teens to do everything in our power to keep them safe while letting them live. If we don’t, they may not.
Norraine Wingfield is the Program Director for the Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Office.