Our adolescence is a period of many milestones. One of the most anticipated and exciting milestones for teenagers is represented by a simple plastic card: the driver’s license. Yet too often, the thrill of those first driving sessions transforms into tragedy. Accident and fatality rates for teenage drivers far outpace those of any other age group (Branche, Feldman, and Williams 146). Does society acknowledge the severity of this problem, and are our proposed solutions enough?
Many individuals believe that no restrictions on teenage driving are necessary. In a Connecticut survey conducted by Banco, Gelven, Lapidus, and Sherman, eighty-three percent of parents rated their teenage children as competent drivers (392). A sizable portion of adults hold this view of teenage driving. Parents who may clash with their rebellious children on other issues might find common ground on the issue of driving. Also, many Americans reason that driving is a necessary step to adulthood.
If a teenager can work, manage money, and even get married in some cases, then why should we deny a teenager the adult responsibility of driving? Teenagers are not adults, and they do not think like adults. The aforementioned Connecticut study highlights this fact. While prospective teenager drivers demonstrated an awareness of obvious driving risks (such as drinking and driving or driving in poor weather), the study participants showed much less concern about other high-risk behaviors.
Half or fewer of the teens in this study judged late-night driving or driving over the speed limit as major concerns (392). If these results generalize to the overall teen population, one may have trouble claiming that teens possess the maturity to truly evaluate their performance on the road. Many critics who do advocate driving regulation argue that any restrictions on teenage driving should be left to parents. However, the Connecticut survey shows a strong disconnect between parents and teenagers on the issue of driving.
While 99 percent of parents surveyed indicated they would impose restrictions on driving, only 88 percent of surveyed teenagers believed their parents would restrict activities. Further, over a quarter of teens rated their parents’ monitoring as medium or even low. While teens expected their parents to forbid drinking and driving or to promote seatbelt use, far fewer teens thought parents would limit driving destinations or number of passengers (less obvious risk issues). More importantly, fully one-third of parents surveyed expressed “ambivalence” about practice driving sessions with their teenagers (391-393).
If even one parent does not engage in a full discussion with his or her child about driving, that one discrepancy could result in one crash or one fatality too many. And even if parents impose all of the restrictions in the world, the obvious gap between parent and child expectations of driving could all too easily show itself in the form of teen rule-breaking and rebellion. Teenage driving is not just a family issue; it can and should be a national issue. Any person on the road holds the future of every other traveler in his or her hands.
Some states have taken the right approach, adopting a graduated licensing program. Such programs address many of the danger points in teenage driving. For one, GDL programs provide young drivers with concrete, lengthy experience on the roads. Rather than relying on parents who may be unwilling or unable to make adequate time for practice driving sessions, GDL programs require a time commitment. One particularly successful program, the New Mexico Graduated Drivers Licensing Law, mandates fifty hours of practice driving.
Previously, New Mexico teens averaged only seven hours of practice driving. Other features of New Mexico and other GDL programs include curfews concerning night driving, a limit on passengers, and a probationary period for all new drivers. The probationary period (which consists of a period of supervised driving only and an additional period of driving only in low-risk situations) and the mandated instructional classes allow teens to accumulate knowledge and maturity so that they may master the mentality as well as the mechanics of driving (Branche, Feldman, and Williams 147-148).
If one doubts the effectiveness of GDL programs, the numbers should speak for themselves. States with GDL laws considered “good” by the Institute for Highway Safety post crash reduction rates ranging from twenty to thirty percent. Unfortunately, only seven states currently meet this criterion (Branche, Feldman, and Williams 148). A national GDL law would send a firm message to teenagers. No more “guessing”: teenagers would know where they stand, and they would know what is expected of them.
Better still, they would have the tools necessary (knowledge and time) for road safety. Some may contend that a national mandate would further strip away the American ideal of individualism. Such a philosophy empowered 750 driving-related vetoes from New Mexico officials (Branche, Williams, and Feldman 148). But what does individualism truly mean? Think of a young loved one. Think of their favorite color. Think of the funny gestures they make. Think of the unique way they express themselves. Think of their smile and their scowl. Think of their quirks.
Think of what makes them individuals. The New Mexico GDL law declined teenage fatalities by seven percent. More simply, the law saved 68 dead kids…. 68 individuals (Branche, Williams, and Feldman 148). WORKS CITED Banco, Leonard, Gelven, Erica, Lapidus, Garry, and Keith Sherman. “New Teen Drivers and Their Parents: What They Know and What They Expect. ” Health Behavior 28 (5): 387-395. Branche, Christine, Williams, Allan F. , and DeDe Feldman. “Graduated Licenscing for Teens: Why Everybody’s Doing It. ” The Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics 30 (3): 146-148.