Riding in cars with teens
Two years ago, an unlicensed 16-year-old Las Vegas high-school student slammed into a light pole on the way to school; both the driver and a passenger died. Even more recently, in February, two Reno teenagers were killed in a three-car accident on U.S. 395.
Statistics show that motor-vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15 to 20-year-olds. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,827 drivers in this group died in car crashes in 2002. Among licensed drivers, young people between the ages of 15 and 20 years have the highest rate of fatal crashes of all age groups, including the elderly. In fact, for teens, the risk of being involved in a fatal crash is three times greater than for drivers aged 65 to 69.
Why do so many teens die in accidents? The reasons include the influence of other teens, underage drinking, inexperience and immaturity.
Some young people say the reason is easier to spot than this: Teenagers aren’t taught to drive. When taking driver’s education, which most Nevada students must complete before receiving a driver’s license, students are not given time behind the wheel, just classroom time. While this informs students of the laws and the dangers of driving under the influence, it’s not the same as time on the road.
“We are living in a country where nobody is taught to drive; we are only taught how to pass a test,” said Josh, a recent driver’s-ed student. “[Driver’s education] was boring, [much of] what they said I already knew, but they were making it more thorough.”
Parents, teens and legislators are all looking for ways to decrease the number of teenage fatalities on the road.
One method that has been tested is that of a “graduated” driving license. This creates provisional licensing for teen drivers until they reach 18. In Nevada, which tightened up requirements for teen drivers in 2001, it may require more driving time than the 50 hours and 10 hours of nighttime driving that is currently mandated. It could also require that teens have their permit for six months instead of three. Finally, further new restrictions could institute restrictions for non-family members during the first four months of driving.
Sgt. Andy Kachurak of Reno Traffic Safety says he does not see teen drivers as a particular problem. In general, he worries about any new or inexperienced driver, and he supports proposals for graduated licenses whereby teens would be limited in the kinds of driving they can do until they have proven themselves to be responsible new drivers.
However, he does believe that teens in particular have problems with distractions—for example, music “played loud in a way that can distract the driver or prevent hearing emergency vehicles” and “cars leaving school for lunch overcrowded with kids.” Teens using alcohol and driving too fast are other concerns for him.
Kachurak also notes that many teens, but by no means a majority, do not use seat belts.
Amanda Taylor is a student at Rainshadow High School.