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Teenage driving has become an increasingly controversial topic over the past decade. Many politicians and adults are fighting for stricter driver’s license requirements and a higher legal driving age. Busy mothers and soon-to-be drivers argue that things are fine just the way they are. However, when the nation’s leading cause of death for teens age 15 to 20 is traffic accidents, things can hardly be considered fine. The need for change is obvious. Something must be done to save the lives of Georgia’s teens as well as those of innocent motorists. The Georgia state legislature should impose tougher laws and regulations on teenage drivers under the age of 18.
The freedom to roam that accompanies a driver’s license can do a lot more harm than good. One statistic points out that “while drivers under the age of 18 make up about 7 percent of the nation’s driving population, they’re involved in about 14 percent of the accidents” (Van Slambrouck 5). Most teens are more concerned with looking cool than with driving responsibly. They want to be seen driving while on their cell phones and have the loudest stereos. They impress each other by driving recklessly and being faster than their friends. Running through a yellow traffic light just as it turns red looks cooler than if they were to stop and wait for the next. The driver’s license grants access to places the teen may have been restricted prior to obtaining his or her license. Chances the teen will skip school or drive drunk also increase drastically once they have obtained a driver’s license.
One method that has proven effective for many states is placing a restriction on the number of passengers that teens are permitted to carry. Often, the passengers in a teen’s car are loud and distractful. They impair the driver’s ability to focus and drive safely, and they play a large role in contributing to an accident. On the contrary, studies have shown that older and more experienced drivers are actually in less danger of causing an accident while carrying passengers. This shows that the problem is specific to teen drivers. However, it is interesting to note that a male teen’s risk level actually decreases when carrying a single female passenger.
A strategy that is very effective if properly administered is the requirement of a learner’s permit. A learner’s permit must be held for a designated length of time–usually one year–before the driver is eligible for his or her real, or “graduated,” license. If the driver retains a clean record throughout the duration of his or her learner’s permit and completes the necessary amount of supervised driving time, he or she then becomes eligible for a graduated license. As stated by Peter Spencer, “graduated licensing involves a trade-off of sorts in terms of full mobility for teenagers, but for improved safety it’s well worth it” (44). Although this system is currently found in nearly all of the states, it is difficult to enforce. This is because there is no way to be sure that the teen actually has completed enough supervised driving time to qualify them for a graduated license. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the parents to make sure their children are 110% capable of handling an automobile.
In addition to a learner’s permit, teen drivers should be required to complete an intense driving school. No test, book, or lecture can prepare a teen for the actual situations that he or she will come across when driving. The driving school would prepare them for potentially dangerous situations that they will encounter when driving alone or with friends. They would learn how alcohol hinders and impairs one’s ability to drive drunk, they would practice losing and regaining control of a vehicle in wet conditions, and many more reactions to dangerous driving situations.
Another method of reducing teen accident rates is harsher punishment for those teens that do drink and drive. By the 1980’s, the legal drinking age in every state had been raised from 18 to 21. This proved successful in lowering the number of teen fatalities involving alcohol. However, the majority of high-school teenagers do still drink alcohol. Since it is common for the drinking to take place at night, usually after 9pm, a teen that attempts to drive drunk is also affected by the darkness. Zero tolerance laws have proven to actually reduce teen alcohol-related accidents. Studies have shown that when teens are aware of the tougher consequences, they are a lot less likely to drive after drinking. This is also true when curfew laws are in effect that prevent the teen from legally driving during certain hours of the night, usually between midnight and 6am. One study illustrates this by comparing teen accident rates in North Carolina before and after tougher licensing laws: “Fatal crashes fell 57%, minor crashes dropped 23%, daytime crashes fell 20% and nighttime crashes fell 43%” (Parker-Pope, B1).
The statistics have unveiled the necessary resolution to this problem. Crash data, surveys, and fatality statistics all point out the dangers that driving not only imposes on young teens, but on other drivers as well. Stricter regulations on 16 to 18 year old drivers in other states, such as California, have proven extremely successful in lowering teen deaths, crash reports, and the number of speeding tickets administered. Now it is time for the parents of Georgia teens to push for legislature enforcing tougher teen driving regulations.
Parker-Pope, Tara. “What Parents Can Do To Protect Their Teens From Auto Accidents” The Wall Street Journal 11 January 2002
Spencer, Peter. “Better Teenage Drivers” Consumers’ Research Magazine March 2001: 43-44
Van Slambrouck, Paul. “California joins movement to restrict teenage driving” Christian Science Monitor 3 July 1998: p5