HIGH RATES OF TEEN AUTO CRASHES, FATALITIES DRIVING REFORMS
STATEHOUSE — For teen-agers, getting behind the wheel of a car or truck should not be a right of passage. It is a privilege that’s learned and earned.
Sadly, statistics show more and more teens today are beginning to drive before they’re adequately prepared for the challenges or mature enough to keep distractions at bay. That’s why there is renewed interest in placing further limits on teen driving in the next session of the Indiana General Assembly.
A summer study committee is currently discussing this issue. During a recent meeting, testimony included heart-rending details of loved ones lost in accidents caused by teens who were allowed to drive before they were really ready for the road.
It’s happening way too often. According to the Indiana Insurance Institute, 89 teens died and 7,100 were injured statewide in 2006 on Indiana’s highways and byways. Teens accounted for 15 percent of all fatalities and injuries reported.
Nationally, the numbers are even more sobering and reveal everyone is at risk – not just teens – when young people get behind the wheel unprepared.
Statistics show 30,917 people died in accidents from 1995 to 2004, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), when the driver was between the ages of 15 and 17. But, only 36 percent of those who died were teens; 63 percent – or 19,740 people – were passengers, other drivers or pedestrians of all ages.
NCSL also put severity of this problem into perspective with a 2002 report showing some 1,692 teens died by suicide and over 2,000 were homicide victims. But nearly three times as many – more than 6,000 – died from motor vehicle crashes that same year.
Meanwhile, other NCSL statistics show:
•teen-age vehicle crashes are more likely to involve speeding;
•teens are more likely to be involved in single-vehicle fatal crashes, and
•more teens drive in older cars and at night than their adult counterparts.
Why is this happening? I can think of a few reasons. Parents are busier today than they were a generation ago, and thus have less time to properly counsel and train their teens. Automobiles are more available while cell phones and text messaging are added distractions older generations did not have. A tighter economy means older, patched-up vehicles on the road. Meanwhile, more teens than ever are driving on increasingly busier highways. It has proven to be a bad – and sad – combination.
States are looking to cut these tragic numbers through more training and supervised experience for young motorists. American Automobile Association (AAA) officials report more than 20 states have already passed laws requiring 50 hours of practice for teens before they can get their license. Currently, Indiana is one of just 10 states with no practice requirements at all – zero.
Among the issues now being considered by the Interim Study Committee are:
•minimum age learner’s permits and probationary licenses can be issued;
•requirements for driving practice before a probationary license can be issued;
•use of handheld devices by probationary drivers;
•conditions probationary drivers now experience;
•whether a penalty should be given to a minor who accompanies a probationary driver without an accompanying adult driver of a certain age; and
•adoption of rules concerning driver education instruction.
Some youth may view this prospect of tighter restrictions as unfair. But their temporary inconvenience is minor compared to the permanent life-altering consequences we’ve seen from tragic teen accidents in recent years.
Sen. David Long (R-Fort Wayne) is President Pro-Tem of the Indiana Senate. He serves District 16, which includes portions of Fort Wayne.
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