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Risky reality for young drivers

For youthful drivers, especially teens, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death.  Admittedly, part of that reality is that the older driving populace succumbs to an ever-growing list of maladies (heart disease and cancer among them) as they age.  Those causes of death skew traffic death comparisons some, but the fact remains that inexperienced drivers, still developing good judgement behind the wheel, are especially likely to engage in risky driving.

Though young drivers will deem it “preachy,” I feel compelled to pass on some cautions these novices should heed.  Many new drivers will not read this advice, so if you are close to one of them, please relay the message.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is intent on improving the odds of survival for young drivers by researching driving risks and ways to effectively limit inexperienced drivers’ exposure to risky situations.

All drivers face risks, but a leading factor contributing to motor vehicle crashes and deaths is inexperience.  Teenage drivers and even those into their twenties have higher crash rates than older drivers.  Risk factors for that group were identified by the NICHD.

Inexperience itself is a risk, covering a wide range of driving errors.  Though mandatory driver training has improved, newly licensed drivers have still had little “street time.”  Plenty of maneuvers, such as seamless merging, take practice to master.  Many older drivers have still not figured out how to judge the speed of the traffic and adjust their ramp velocity so as to hit the proper merge slot just right.

Teenage passengers create another teen driving risk.  As a result, Washington forbids newly licensed drivers from carrying passengers, except family members, under age 20 for six months.  For the second six months, no more than three passengers under 20 are allowed.  That’s a good premise, but I have not seen evidence of parents or police enforcing that measure.

Distraction while driving is a risk factor for everyone, but teens are more likely to engage in the biggest distraction:  cell phone use and texting.  As per a line made famous by Bob Newhart as a psychologist on his TV program (google it):  Stop it!

While drinking and driving is not especially high among novices, it still causes a disproportionate number of fatal crashes in teen years and young adulthood.

Night driving is a big risk for young drivers who have mainly driven during daylight.  That’s why Washington, for example, restricts drivers licensed for less than one year from driving between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent, licensed guardian or licensed driver at least 25 years old.  Again, parents should be aware of and enforce that rule.

Unfortunately, being male is another driving risk factor, particularly when carrying male passengers.  However, the number of young female drivers involved in crashes has been increasing of late.

To improve chances of survival, young drivers should take note of and resist engaging in the risk factors listed.  True, one can’t practically resist “being male,” but they can avoid carrying teen passengers, showing off, speeding and texting.

Young drivers in general are certainly prone to engaging in risk, since crash rates for teens are 75 percent lower when an adult is a passenger.  I’ve suggested that adults drive like the police is following; I guess teens should drive like a parent is riding with them. 

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.

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