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Keeping Teen Drivers Alive

By Rich_Maloof Aug 16, 2012 4:31PM

Photo: Stewart Charles Cohen/Getty ImagesTeenagers find safety in numbers. Roving bundles of hormonal chaos move through the country’s shopping malls, movie theaters and fast-food joints. Whether bound together by being cool or uncool, athletic or artistic, goth or geek, the species naturally drifts into groups. Even virtual teen lives are conducted en masse as experiences are shared in online social circles.

But when it comes to auto safety, traveling in numbers is what puts teenagers at risk. The statistics are distressing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 5,000 teens ages 16 to 20 are killed in passenger vehicles each year — with two-thirds of those fatalities occurring in a car driven by another teenager. Relative to all other drivers, three times as many teens are involved in fatal accidents. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America.

New driving laws regulating how many kids can pack together in automobiles are aimed squarely at reducing the number of lives lost and families destroyed.

Graduated Driver Licensing (.pdf file) systems, already adopted by all 50 states, are designed to increase driving privileges in phases as young drivers become more experienced and improve their skills. While safety guidelines have buckled down on seatbelt use and nighttime driving, there’s a new push to more significantly limit teenagers from driving with other teens in the car. Teens are prohibited from driving their contemporaries altogether in 15 states, plus Washington, D.C., and only seven states still allow a single teen passenger to travel in a vehicle operated by a teenage driver.

The long-term romance between American teenagers and cars is the backdrop for a front-page feature in the New York Times this week. In Youth Driving Laws Limit Even the Double Date, writer Kate Zernike notes the support and the resistance to new laws while nodding nostalgically at the car culture of our past, as depicted in films such as American Graffiti.

Today’s teens will indeed miss out on piling in for a late-night run to the diner or cruising the strip together, flirting car to car. Their parents will have to shuttle them to school and practice and parties rather than allowing them to enjoy those first delicious tastes of independence together. But when laws restricting the number of teens in cars save the lives of drivers and passengers, a long and open road stretches out for them ahead.

Photo: Stewart Charles Cohen/Getty Images

51Comments
Aug 17, 2012 4:09AM
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I believe that some teenagers are responsible enough to drive with their friends and still be alert drivers. Even though some are not, I personally can have friends in the car anad still be alert and watching, but just not participate in the conversation as much. I know friends, also, who can do the same. Driving can afford teenagers freedom, and some amount of responsiblity. You can go out and do things that you couldn't necessarily do with a parent. And even though "Crusing" days may be over, you can still go places and do things with friends.
Aug 17, 2012 4:08AM
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If you raise your childen right you need not worry about any wrong decisions... 
Aug 17, 2012 2:48AM
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A few weeks ago in our area, an SUV with four 17 year olders crashed into the back of a semitrailer truck at high speed on a semi-rural stretch of interstate in an area that had some road construction going on in the area ahead of them.  They weren't paying attention to the slowing traffic in front of them.  They were coming back from an all important shopping trip.  And why was this?  They were all looking around for a piece of paper so they could write down one of their phone numbers and flash it at a girl they saw in a vehicle they'd passed in the next lane.  Can we all say STUPID together.  3 of the 4 died.  And one of the dads had the gall to blame the state DOT for not having more warning signs of road contruction ahead.  Do you really think it would have made a difference?  Seriously.  Heck no!  Lawsuits against the state are pending.  People like this make me sick. 
Aug 17, 2012 2:36AM
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It's a good idea. A few years ago CT lost a car load of underage new teen driver's out of 6 in the car 5 died.  Then a little later it happened again, this time no one was alive.  We know have a new driver who is 17 years old and in this year alone since November.  He has had 2 accidents with his teenage friends.  Not 1 accident but 6 weeks after the 1st one he had another accident.  CT DMV suspended his drivers license in May.  I told him from the start about this rule and he deceided he knew better.  Thank god none of his friends were hurt. 
Aug 17, 2012 2:34AM
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Why should you restrict only one demographic? Sexism and racism are frowned upon in this country, so why shouldn't ageism be? The government is targeting a demographic and limiting their freedoms.
Aug 17, 2012 2:16AM
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Well, its certainly true that teenage drivers are much more easily distracted by having friends in the car but I’m not sure passenger restrictions are the answer. After all (as someone else pointed out before I could finish writing this) if a kid cant drive his 5 friend to the mall, or wherever, in his own car then that means we will now have 3 cars with inexperienced drivers on the road that day instead of one. And if they were not even allowed to have one passenger then this would mean 5 people driving in 5 separate cars. Of course hopefully these laws would allow at least one passenger per car. After all the whole point of getting your license is so you can take your girlfriend out on a date. Anyway the point is that the drastic increase in the number of teen drivers on the road at any given time might completely offset any reduction in teen traffic fatalities by these proposed laws. There’s really no way to know for sure but I for one am not looking forward to driving around with 2 or 3 times as many teen drivers on the road. Anyway, the bottom line is, death is a part of life. Over a million people die in this country every year from diseases attributable to cigarette smoking or eating unhealthy foods for years. And there are over 100,000 accidental deaths each year here and 40,000 suicides. When you look at those 5000 deaths a year due to teenage drivers the number kind of pales in comparison doesn’t it? Sure we could all lock ourselves and our kids up in the house and never leave but that’s not really living in the first place, is it. Living life to the fullest is always going to involve a certain amount of risk. And a life spent living in fear that something might happen to you or your kids is a fate worse than death as far as I’m concerned.

Aug 17, 2012 1:59AM
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I can't help but wonder how many of the naysayers are teens.  I would guess most.  And I would bet that very few of them are parents.  As a parent, I want my kids to come home safe.  Period.  And if that means a little more cash out of my pocket, or a little more inconvenience, so be it.  Kids are a inconvenience from the day they are born. I still love them and I will gladly live with a little more inconvenience for me (or them)  to make sure they are safe.
Aug 17, 2012 1:30AM
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who ever thinks this is being done to "save lives" is under a delusion.
these  "kids" teens that have gone through all the training, assessments, and then probationary/permit period and have met all the requirements then paid all the fees THEN finally EARNED the license are deemed unfit driver basically and are prohibited from driving anyone else WOW this is BS, like always, government officials , cooking ways to reach in our pockets and take more money under the disguise of doing it for our good. If you pay attention every time they want to make more money off us they make something that was never wrong and find a way to make it wrong and then put up fines.

And so many folks just eat it all up and agree that its great.
like Seat belt why should ANYONE be punished for not wearing them? there is no victim its not a crime its not wrong to not wear them they just know folks dont like them for one reason or another so they take advantage of that and use it as a reason to write you a ticket so you pay them money, the same is true here, they know that's the first thing new drivers want to do is drive with others, they are excited and proud to finally be able to drive. as far as studies go I have no faith in them, it is a familiar tool they pull out when they want to convince the crowd, a way to lend legitimacy to their claims and proposals.  put when we have studies show that more folks die of doctor errors or medications or anything else they stay tight lipped about those numbers. so they pretend to want to save lives and ignore bigger killers.
JUST another money grab especially in these economic times I say no to this idea they earned it. now stop being greedy and let them drive.

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