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Insta-CoGo: Teens and Car Crashes

Cindy Loose

While no one can calculate the sorrow caused by teen crashes, a first-ever analysis released last week by AAA finds that crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 17 cost American society more than $34 billion annually in medical expenses, lost work, property damage loss and other related costs in 2006.

Drivers 15-17 were involved in about 974,000 crashes in 2007, injuring 406,427 people and killing 2,541, the study found.

There is a proven means of reducing those numbers. States that ease new drivers onto the road by imposing a variety of restrictions -- like restricting driving late at night, and not allowing new drivers to drive other teens -- see decreases in the carnage. The system is called "graduated driver licensing."

Maryland, D.C. and Virginia all have some but not all of the seven elements of a graduated license system advocated by AAA. In fact, they've been pushing hard for more restrictions and were hopeful to get new measures passed by the Maryland state legislature this session. Instead, the legislature just decided to study the issue this summer.

Instead of making lobbyists fight this issue state by state, how about some federal intervention? The feds already withhold road funding from states that refuse to make the use of seat belts a primary offense -- meaning police can stop a driver for not using a seat belt even if there is no other cause. Why not say, use a proven system to save teen lives, or you don't get federal dollars?

By Cindy Loose |  April 15, 2008; 6:24 AM ET  | Category:  Cindy Loose , Insta-CoGo
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While I generally favor the graduated drivers license the statistics about how many lives are save actually parallel the reduction in teenage drivers not any improved regulation. By making it difficult for teens to get licenses, far fewer get licenses so far fewer are in car accidents. The percentage of 16 and 17 year olds with licenses has plummeted to its lowest level in 50 years. You could get the same results -- many lives saved, billions of dollars in savings -- by forbidding those over 65 from driving.

Posted by: Tom | April 15, 2008 6:31 AM

No how's about no govt involvement and substitute parental involvement. Control over when the teenager drives,how many passengers are in the car and no talking or texting ever on the cell when driving.
Graduated licensing is just a band aid for
crummy parenting. A DL and driving a vehicle can cause death and injury its not allowing you kid internet access. Also car choice is important. High horsepower and sport cars for inexperienced drivers as our SUVs, Crossovers and pick ups.

And your new driver needs some behind the wheel instruction that teaches car control and survival skills. Sorry learning to parallel park will not prevent an accident but both ahnds on the steering wheel at all times might.

Your local chapter of the BMW car club and your local road course offer classes in car control for your new driver take advantage of it. I teach high performance driving and car control and this may safe a life. See and

Posted by: Anonymous | April 15, 2008 7:11 AM

It would be nice to think that all parents are responsible and that they know what to do and that they are able to control their kids. I don't think that's so. I also wonder if accident statistics would bear out the idea that drivers over 65 get in more accidents than teens--I doubt it.

But I will be looking up the Web site listed by anonymous--I have a 15 year old about to start learning enough to get a permit, and defensive driving sounds good.

Posted by: cindy loose | April 15, 2008 8:41 AM

I've done a lot of research on teens, driving, graduated licenses, and driver training. Unfortunatly, it was all left at my old job so I don't have it at my figertips. However, I do recall there is little statistical benefit to standard driver training. As for graduated licenses, its a matter of experience, not just age. In general, novice drivers have a higher incident rate, no matter their age. Graduated licenses should be enacted for any new driver, but alas, politically it can only be applied to those under 18.

Posted by: RT | April 15, 2008 8:50 AM

It would be a perfect world if there were no "crummy" parents who failed to impose and enforce driving restrictions on their teens. It would be a perfect world if every teen abided by strict driving restrictions imposed by their "excellent" parents. It would be a perfect world if everyone would do what was good and right without ever having to rely on government intervention. But, it's not a perfect world and sometimes we need the federal government to step in to protect us from ourselves and others.
As the parent of a 17-year-old male driver, I would appreciate the federal government enacting more and stronger restrictions on teen driving to reenforce the strict standards which I place on my son (but which I cannot swear he obeys 100% because I can't be with him 24-7). I would much prefer that than reading more stories about teens killing themselves and others in senseless accidents. And I would certainly prefer that to being one of the parents who was told that their teen was killed or injured in an accident or killed or injured another person.

Posted by: Virginia Parent | April 15, 2008 8:51 AM

To those immediately blasting the parents, I used to think that way too.

Until this past fall, when my nephew was clocked going in speeds excess of 100 mph on a back road in NoVa after dark. We are all still thanking God no one was hurt.

It stunned us (his family) and his teachers, because my sister's kids *are* good kids as the result of really good parenting. My nephew is polite and friendly to adults, has good if not great grades, and bosses and teachers both have spontaneously told his parents how much they love seeing a teenager with a solid work ethic and a general sense of accountability and responsibility. And, of course, when adults were driving with him, he was a very responsible driver.

My sister had even told him about her own car accidents from her teen years (caused more by being an inexperienced driver, not excessive speed), so she wouldn't be *that* sympathetic if they drove irresponsibly. She knew first hand that as a new driver, you *have* to pay attention to the road, and not your friends.

When my sister and her husband asked my nephew *why* he was driving that fast on a curvy back road, he replied "I don't know - I was just so stupid." This was not an answer that generated *any* sympathy amongst the adults in his life - we concurred heartily. He frequently drove his friends, girlfriend and sister around - "so stupid" didn't begin to cover it.

He certainly knows better now. Aside from his home-based punishment (loss of anything and everything that would be considered a privilege...including the cell phone and computer he bought for himself from his own money), the courts took his license for a year, he had to go to a series of good driver classes, perform a lot of community service by giving lectures on the perils of speeding (some in his own school), and skirted jail time by the skin of his teeth.

My sister also made him pay for the lawyer and court costs himself from the money he's been saving up from his after school jobs for years, since he was the one who incurred the cost. And he still has to pay the insurance on the car, too, while it sits in the driveway, going nowhere. And he wasn't allowed to quit his after school job (his first instinct) - my sister and her husband insisted he has to be there on time every day. If nothing else, he has bills to pay.

We're not sure he's ever going to drive faster than a Florida retiree when and if he feels like getting behind the wheel again.

Posted by: Virginia Aunt | April 15, 2008 10:03 AM

Dear Aunt Virginia,
You make good points. Good parenting often has a tough time competing with teen hormones and hubris.

Posted by: cindy loose | April 15, 2008 10:09 AM

I disagree with most laws that are directed at teenagers. As RT wrote, any novice driver, regardless of age, would benefit from graduated licensing. The drunk driving laws are a great example of misdirected legislation. The penalties for a teenager convicted of drunk driving are immediate and sever, but not for an adult. Why is this? Is it better to drink and drive when you are an adult?

Rather than trying to make the case that we would all be safer if teenagers didn't drink, use cell phones or otherwise get distracted while driving, there would be more value to all of us if the laws and propaganda were directed to all ages. None of us should drink and drive, talk or text and drive, or anything else. Just watch the road, be considerate of other drivers, and arrive safely.

Posted by: annapolis | April 15, 2008 11:16 AM

Instead of discriminating against teenagers, how about encouraging them and all drivers to be adults (and to understand inertia, friction, and consequences: that's pretty much all driving is)?

Perhaps it's finally time for rigorous driver's license exams that
actually test real-world skills, rather than today's simplistic and
easy-to-pass test. We would get safer teen drivers, and we could start to
improve the overall level of driving skill, skill that is sorely lacking on
the roads today?

Posted by: omars | April 15, 2008 12:55 PM

So was this another study that only looked at the "deadly" teenage driver and not the just as deadly elderly driver? Probably so. But will anything ever be done to limit elderly drivers? Doubtful. There is one powerful force that the elderly has that teens do not: Lobbyists. The AARP will never let anyone limit their ability to drive, no matter what science or anything else says about their abilities.

At the same time I whole-heartedly agree that new drivers are the problem, not just under 18. Can you honestly tell me that an 18 year old is safer than a 16 year old behind the wheel when they both just got their license?

Driving is a privilege, not a right, but our country has forgotten this fact. Drunk or reckless drivers should lose their licenses immediately, that would create the most meaningful impact in road safety. Even rural areas have bus service these days (I live in WV and most counties now have at least limited bus service).

Posted by: teens | April 15, 2008 3:05 PM

Dear Teens,
I'm thinking of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry talks about elderly drivers coming out of driveways without looking: "I'm old and I'm coming back." But in fact I don't think statistics would bear out the assumption that older drivers cause more accidents than middle age drivers. I am sure that new drivers, teens in particular, have much higher accident rates.

But I'm with you on the drunk driver issue: Age should not be a factor in deciding penalties. Besides, given that a drunk driver is no different than a person wildly shooting a pistol, maybe not hitting anyone but maybe wiping out a family, I think the penalties all around are much to lenient. A judge who is considered tough will typically take the person's driver's license for a period, but allowing them to still drive to work and school. I think a stint having to take a bunch of buses to get to work would be a more telling reminder of how serious society takes the offense.

Posted by: cindy loose | April 16, 2008 9:48 AM

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