Young Drivers: What to Do About Them
When leaving the house to drive somewhere, one expects to come back safely. In fact, that is pretty much the goal of driving. Standing in the way of this is the risk of error, more often than not being that of other drivers.A lot of the time, young and inexperienced drivers are the culprits of such error.Combining this new found knowledge, we see that young drivers are more of a risk to the rest of the driving population than any other age group, and simply shouldn’t be driving.
Almost everywhere in the United States, someone by the age of 17 has already embarked on their first car ride without supervision. Because of this, almost every experienced driver has encountered one of these young drivers due to the low age restrictions for receiving a driver’s license in the country. Not only can one acquire their permit and eventually license at a young age, the requirements to receive one are far lesser than that of other countries. Having acquired my license at the age of 17, the ease of the process was shocking. The first step was to pass a written theory exam, to which the answers are widely available on the internet. Next, came having to spend $300 on a measly six hours of driving practice with an instructor. This however is not a necessary step to getting a license, instead it is only required for those wanting an early learner’s permit. Finally came the big day, the actual driving test which took a whopping five minutes to complete, going over three skills in a parking lot with an examinator who barely looked up from his paperwork. This of course was the case in New Jersey, the only state to conduct its practical examinations in parking lots, and not on the actual roads these new drivers will be traveling on.
Compare this quick and streamlined process to get everyone on the road at a young age to the rigorous testing and long list of requirements to receive one’s license in a country such as Germany, famous for being home to some of the best drivers of the world. There, students must first pass an eye examination, along with a first aid course in order to begin their theoretical learning. This must be done through a licensed school, in preparation for a two part theoretical exam. Upon completion of the theoretical exam, hopeful drivers must then complete thirty hours of road training in preparation for the practical exam. This exam, unlike the one in the United States, consists of driving on the Autobahn, the world’s fastest highway, driving at night, and finally driving in an urban environment. One mistake on any of these portions results in a failure, forcing further training and preparation for another take. When comparing these two standards, one must stop and think whether the youth in America is truly ready for the challenges of the road.
Taking this into account, the fact that AAA’s Research Brief titled “Rates of Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age, United States, 2014 – 2015’s” opening statement states that “drivers ages 16-17 continue to have the highest rates of crash involvement, injuries to themselves and others and deaths of others in crashes in which they are involved” is unfortunately not at all surprising. Young drivers have posed and continue to pose a larger risk on the road than any other age group. Driving as most people know requires a large amount of focus, concentration, and mechanical ability to safely and properly operate a motor vehicle. The tasks required to safely drive are much more than simply getting into a car and going, which may be the kind of approach young drivers take. Whether it’s due to inexperience in split second decision making scenarios, or the need to impress others, the age group of drivers who have just acquired their license or permit statistically poses a larger threat to the general public.
Another major aspect behind the disproportionate accident statistics among young drivers is the biological component behind decision making. Critical thinking, and proper risk management are skills that develop over time. It is not something that is commonly found in younger people, although there are obviously exceptions. As a majority however, young adults do not possess the cerebral capacity and development in order to properly assess and react to stressful situations. In fact, authors Figner and Bernd, in their study of risky choices across different age groups, said that “risk taking increases when individuals reach puberty, peaks in adolescence and early adulthood, and decreases again during adulthood” showing that a lack of risk taking capacity related to young age clearly shows in the age group’s lack of driving abilities. With officials not taking into account the lack of development, and failing to conform to the standards set by other nations, the result we see is young drivers in the United States posing a danger to all with whom they share the roads.
While some may say that limiting the opportunities for youth to drive may further worsen the dangers caused by inexperienced drivers, focusing on improving the steps necessary to acquire one’s license would ultimately result in safer roads. In the article titled “Drivers license requirements and road safety: Evidence from a natural experiment in Mexico”, Cervantes shows the extreme comparison between driver’s license requirements. Comparing the different requirements in different municipalities in Mexico, similar to that of what we see in the United States, he shows a correlation between accident rates and requirements for acquiring a license. Although extreme, it paints the picture that what is done leading up to someone driving has an effect on the driver’s performance on the road. Stating that some parts of Mexico have no prerequisites or tests required to get a drivers license, Cervantes shows that such areas face a tremendous increase in traffic accidents involving new drivers, in his findings saying “We find that abolishing both tests, driving and written, is related to an increase of more than 1,800 RTAs per100k population of ages 15 to 19. This effect seems to more than double the rate of accidents, on average.” While a complete lack of requirements is not the case in the United States, we do however see that some states make it much easier to acquire a license than others. This differing of standards throughout the nation causes unproportional statistics that may not represent the whole of the population. What is certain however is that the lower the entry qualifications are for anything, the more unqualified members will be seen. In the case of acquiring a driver’s license, lowering the standard required follows this trend, resulting in an unproportionally high accident rate among the younger age group.
Others may argue that tightening restrictions and telling teens what to do only causes the opposite result. That may be true in some cases, however taking the proper steps to teach the importance of safe driving may be a step in the right direction. Often the teaching approach is the most important part of passing on information, so if the current way isn’t working why not change it? These young drivers are not being properly taught, resulting in the lack of knowledge and ability on the road. For instance, oftentimes when someone sees another driver perform a risky or dangerous maneuver on the road, they say something along the lines of “that idiot”. Interestingly enough, the rates of fatal accidents among teen drivers loosely correlates with the level of education in the state itself. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, analyst Bailey Peterson finds that the state with the highest rate of teenage fatal accidents is Kentucky, with 3.26 fatal accidents per 10,000 licensed drivers under the age of 19. Comparing this report with the US News’ “Education Rankings”, we see that Kentucky ranked 38th in the country in education level. With such high fatal accident rates in the state, Kentucky also has the highest average insurance rate in the country, showing that the issue is clearly seen by insurers as well. Further supporting this correlation is the fact that New Jersey, which ranks 2nd in the US News’ education ranking has seen a fatal accident rate of less than 0.5 per the same 10,000 licensed drivers under the age of 19. With an increase in education, we can argue that a decrease in youth involvement in accidents is bound to happen. This cannot however happen without changes in the current regulations in place. In particular, the decrease in driver’s education in public schools. Why public schools, funded by taxpayer money, the same money that goes towards public roads, are cutting back on driver’s education funding is a mystery, but it is something that must change for us to see improvement. Instead of students being offered a necessary skill being taught by licensed professionals, parents often have to turn to private driving schools for their kids to be able to learn the fundamentals of driving. Instead of officials decreasing the amount of schools offering drivers education as part of the curriculum, it should be made mandatory in every public school, as eventually these kids will end up on public roads.
Another factor contributing to the unproportionally high accident rate among younger drivers is the decrease in the desire to drive. Although sounding absurd, with the advancements of technology, the amount of young drivers has been seeing a steady decrease. Teens no longer need to get into a car to reach their friends, as there are now a multitude of other options available. Because of this, young drivers have simply stopped prioritizing getting their licenses in the first place. In fact, data from the Department of Highway Transportation showed that 30.7 percent of 16-year-olds got their licenses in 2008, compared to 44.7 percent in 1988. Washington Post writer Donna St. George cites Rob Foss, director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina, and others saying that “graduated” state licensing systems — which have created new requirements for learner’s permits, supervised practice hours, night driving and passengers in the car — are responsible for much of the decline in the number of licensed 16-year-olds.” Aimed at trying to decrease the risks posed to young drivers, GDL standards are an attempt to gradually prepare young drivers for driving in all scenarios.Instead however, it appears as if the increased regulations are turning young drivers away, even though these regulations are still far from the standards found across the world. For instance, drivers in their permit stage in Ontario, Canada are not allowed on high speed roads such as highways. Meanwhile parts of Australia have implemented speed limits specifically for young drivers, independent from those for other drivers. The fact is, we are seeing that the amount of young drivers is decreasing, largely due to not wanting to deal with the current regulations, however when looking on the global stage, we see that the more strict regulations have proven to be more successful. Instead of giving in to the dissent shown among young drivers towards these regulations, enforcing a stricter and more efficient standard across the country is necessary. With time, such regulations would lead to the acceptance and improvement of standard of driving, ultimately leveling the rates of accidents among age groups from the unproportionally large amount seen in youth drivers.
This danger however stems from a plethora of smaller decisions made leading up to an ultimately dangerous combination. Taking into account that the standard for getting a license is sub par in the United States, it is also important to see the issues that young drivers bring upon themselves when driving. It is well known that seatbelts are very effective in reducing serious injuries when involved in an accident. For some reason however, the same age group involved in the largest percentage of car accidents is also the age group which is least likely to be wearing a seatbelt while driving. When younger children drive with their parents, it is almost guaranteed that the parents make sure their children have their seat belt fastened. In fact, in a survey conducted by McCartt, Shabanova, and Leaf, they found that “The restrictions most commonly imposed by parents were no drinking and driving (90%) and no driving without using a seat belt (73%)”. Being the second largest concern however does not stop these young drivers, which contributes to the larger proportion of fatal accidents in young drivers compared to other age groups.
While not using the safety equipment on a car is one thing, we also see that the cars that young drivers drive tend to be older, and less safe than other age groups. Almost every teen driver who gets a car is given, or buys, a less expensive older vehicle. This pretty much stems from the common knowledge that young drivers are not good drivers, and are expected to get into an accident sooner than later. In fact, according to McCartt, Shabanova, and Leaf “The crash rate per 100 licensed drivers was 5.9 for the first month of licensure and 3.4 for the second month; the rate varied from 1.3 to 3.0 for the subsequent 10 months”. While many parents do not use this exact statistic, the expectation is there that a young driver will get into an accident. This in turn becomes a large factor when deciding on what car to purchase. Because of this, young drivers tend to drive older smaller cars than other age groups. Well, the effect of this is almost self explanatory. Smaller cars are more likely to sustain more damage in an accident than larger cars, and older cars have less safety gizmos than newer ones. Being almost set up for failure, we see that the car choice made by parents inadvertently puts these young drivers at a higher risk of sustaining serious or even fatal injuries when involved in an accident. Along with the fact that these vehicle choices contribute to the danger faced, a study conducted by Cammisa, Williams, and Leaf also showed that teenagers who own their own car drive more miles, exhibit more risky behaviors, and are involved in more crashes than those who share a vehicle.
Going back to the young driver themself however, the use of cellphones while driving is possibly the largest issue contributing to carelessness on the road. Arguably the most important device in a teenager’s life is their cell phone, with almost constant use among the age group. This unfortunately translates to cell phone use while driving, leading to an increase in distracted young drivers. In fact, according to the NHTSA “A disproportionate amount of MVCs related to distracted driving involve teenagers: although they comprise 6% of all drivers killed in MVCs, teenagers account for 10% of all drivers determined to be distracted at the time of a crash and 11% of all drivers killed in crashes related to documented cellphone use“. That is not surprising seeing as a nationally representative survey of 1,243 high school students, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that 83% reported engaging in electronic device use while driving at least once in the last 30 days. That statistic seems ridiculous, but is it really surprising? These younger drivers do not go a day without worrying about what is happening online, but do not appear to worry about themselves and others on the roads. Cell phone use while driving is an ongoing problem, taking away critical time needed to react in serious situations, oftentimes being the difference between causing and avoiding an accident among young drivers. Although there have been countless attempts to educate and mitigate the amount of cellphone use while driving among all drivers, it appears that once again the rebellious mentality of the youngest drivers blocks the messages from achieving their goal.
With not one positive coming from what young, inexperienced, and uneducated drivers bring to public roads, there is only one solution: don’t let it happen. Don’t let these drivers have the ability to drive amongst those who have matured and gained the experience to properly and safely operate vehicles. Maybe a reality check and a harsh awakening is what is necessary to prevent the unproportional accident rates that this age group is involved in. Giving it some time, the urge to drive may finally cause these drivers to learn the proper skills needed to safely operate a car. While it may seem extreme, this measure of restriction may finally be the breakthrough needed to prevent the countless innocent lives being lost on the roads we all share. Such a proposition alone may make these drivers think twice before heading out on the road, because they never know, it could be their last trip.
Cervantes, L. F. (2012). Drivers license requirements and road safety: Evidence from a natural experiment in Mexico (Unpublished master’s thesis). doi: https://bit.ly/3gQs31P
Delgado, M. K., Wanner, K. J., & McDonald, C. (n.d.). Adolescent Cellphone Use While Driving: An Overview of the Literature and Promising Future Directions for Prevention. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.cogitatiopress.com/mediaandcommunication/article/view/536
Ferguson, S. A. (2002, December 24). Other high-risk factors for young drivers-how graduated licensing does, doesn’t, or could address them. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022437502000828#BIB2
McCartt, A. T., Shabanova, V. I., & Leaf, W. A. (2002, February 01). Driving experience, crashes and traffic citations of teenage beginning drivers. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457502000064?casa_token=KqGitS-PDJsAAAAA:p5WDIgF-qN7sqDDqEEFSxfeSwZsgcIEB7i-EOVe10VCnh2KRU7LLR-D7TWktJwj240uG6ALf1MU
Office of Highway Policy Information – Policy: Federal Highway Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2008/dl20.cfm
Peterson, B. (2020, March 19). The Deadliest States for Teen Drivers. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.valuepenguin.com/auto-insurance/deadliest-states-teen-drivers
St. George, D. (2010, January 24). More teens are choosing to wait to get driver’s licenses. Washington Post. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51b0ce25e4b0e8d244de368b/t/51ffc5b1e4b09bc7c9f70b5b/1375716785735/More teens are choosing ot wait to get driver’s licenses.pdf
These U.S. States Have the Best Education Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education