A Northern California teen recently earned the inauspicious distinction of being the third student driver to collide with a California Department of Motor Vehicles building in recent years. The teen apparently mistook the gas pedal for the brake and crashed into the side of the Roseville DMV, knocking a five-foot hole in the building’s wall and putting the office out of commission for four days.
While this story may seem like something out of an old cartoon, car accidents caused by inexperienced drivers are no laughing matter.
Immaturity and inexperience can be a dangerous, and all too often deadly, combination for many teens. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for American teenagers, who suffered 4,054 accident-related fatalities in 2008.
Graduated License Programs Do Little to Decrease Risk
California, like many states, has attempted to curb the rate of teen-driving accidents by implementing a graduated license program for young drivers. Under the program, teens who pass their driving test are issued a provisional license that puts a one-year restriction on operating a motor vehicle between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Further, drivers under the age of 20 are prohibited from having passengers in the car unless they are supervised by an adult over the age of 25.
Unfortunately, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that these programs may not be as effective as anticipated.
The study found that in states with graduated license programs, the rate of fatal accidents involving 16-year-old drivers was 26 percent lower than in states without restrictions on teen drivers. However, the study also found that the graduated license programs were associated with a 12 percent increase in fatal accidents involving 18-year-old drivers – essentially canceling out the decrease among younger drivers.
Instead of increasing overall safety, the study concluded that graduated license programs may just shift the risk from younger drivers onto older teens.
Parents Can Help Increase Teen Driving Safety
Government restrictions are simply no substitute for experience and proper supervision. Parents must take care to monitor their teens’ driving habits and ensure they are not let out on the road before they are ready. Further, parents should talk to their teens and set clear expectations about what is, and is not, acceptable behavior behind the wheel.
Parents can also help by choosing a high-quality drivers’ education program for their teen. Experts recommend choosing a school that is licensed and listed with the California DMV.