teenage driversThere is no denying that being a teenager is one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. As a child, there is usually someone there making all the tough choices for you. You don’t think much about who you are as a person other than as an extension of your parents. Most kids spend time daydreaming about becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or all of these over the course of childhood. Once someone becomes a teenager, however, they really start trying to figure out who they are as an individual and what they really want to do with their lives. Considering this, it is not surprising that most teens go from your sweet little jewel to someone you don’t know seemingly overnight. That surreptitious monster, Independence, rearing its surly head is just a matter of course.

As we all know, one of the biggest steps toward this independence for teens is learning to drive and getting a driver’s license. Of course, this is one of the most exciting times in a young person’s life, but it can be one of the most trying for parents. More than just the fact that a lot of kids start bugging their parents at age 13 or 14 about learning to drive, there is also a very real fear for many parents about the perils that driving presents to their children. Statistics bear out that these parental fears are very real. Teens and the elderly tend to have the greatest incidences of accidents and fatalities. With a large population of retirees here in South Florida, there are a lot of people who are ready to attribute inattention, uncertainty, or other such poor driving issues on the elderly. Many times, however, the responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with driving fails to be recognized, especially in young adults. It is not until you gain concrete life experiences that you fully understand that bad things don’t always happen to the other guy. Feeling as though you generally know what you are doing is not only part of growing up, but it helps to pave the way to learning how to make decisions. Unfortunately, it is also the mistakes that people make that teach them what not to do. Although one study showed that fatality rates from accidents are greater in drivers over the age of 65, there is speculation that there are considerations that are not taken into account. By example, as we age, we tend to become less resilient physically and often are unable to withstand an injury that may be less severe in a younger person. Obviously, this is something that will affect the survivability rate of an individual in a similar crash.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, accidents occur more frequently among 16- to 19-year-old drivers than in any other group. They have four times the number of accidents per mile driven than older drivers. Additionally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that car accidents are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds. The reasons for the statistics are many and include:

• Lack of experience: Experience is a valuable, but often harsh, teacher. Underestimating stopping distances, vehicle maneuverability, or other unanticipated dangers account for a lot of accidents that involve teen drivers. Not knowing how to react to a hazard can have deadly consequences.

• Risk perception: Again, this is something that experience teaches us. Teens often don’t see something as a possible risk of injury and it is only have going through certain situations ourselves are we more able to assess risks.

• Risk-taking: Often teens engage in dangerous behaviors for a variety of reasons, whether it be to show off for friends or because they over-estimate their own abilities. Sometimes this can be attributed to substance abuse, which is frequently another cause of teen traffic accidents and fatalities.

• Inattentiveness due to distractions: Studies have shown that teen crashes occur at a much higher rate when they have other teens in the car with them. Texting while driving, changing CDs, and so forth can often lead to momentary distractions that can have fatal consequences.

• Developmental factors: Peer influence, volatility of emotions, and other issues that are affected by an increased level of maturity also impact teen driving.

Although the passage of time is the most likely way for teens to achieve a greater level of maturity, there are some things that can help them remain safer behind the wheel. Florida’s graduated driver’s licensing system (GDL) is one way to help. Implemented in 1996, the GDL is a three-stage process of licensing teens. It not only dictates how old a driver must be to get a driver’s license, but also how long they must hold that license and what hours they are permitted to drive. The process starts for 15-year-olds who can be issued a driver’s permit and ends with a full-fledged driver’s license at the age of 18.

In Florida, even if all of the terms of the GDL are met, there are still some hindrances to teens getting an unrestricted driver’s license. Dropping out of school, getting a ticket, a DUI, or getting caught with tobacco before being old enough to legally use it can all prevent teens from getting their driver’s license. I am sure that most teens find both the GDL process and these other restrictions objectionable; however, since its inception in one form or another, there has been a reduction by 10 to 30 percent in teen accidents across the United States. The other restrictions are in place to not only reduce the number of teen traffic deaths, but also to encourage them to succeed. Probably the most valuable resource in preventing teen traffic-related injuries or deaths is education. Like with most other things in life, one cannot place enough emphasis on education. In this particular matter, education comes in many forms. The State of Florida requires that all first-time drivers take a driver’s education course known as Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education. Many high schools offer a driver’s education course, but it is also offered by private organizations which are required to be certified by the state.

Another form of education for young drivers that is one of the more important ones is parental involvement. Talking to your kids about the responsibilities that driving entails is critical to them making sound decisions when either driving or riding with friends. Although it is true that teens are heavily influenced by their friends, kids actually do listen to their parents when there are open lines of communications. Also, just like with drug, alcohol, or tobacco use, kids emulate what they see. Setting good examples by not texting and driving, speeding, or engaging in otherwise reckless behavior is probably one of the greatest influences upon the driving choices that teens make. Sadly, Florida is one of the states that leads the way in teen traffic deaths. This heart-breaking data is a motivating factor behind the state implementing a teen court pilot program in 2013. This program allows teens under the age of 18 who are first-time traffic offenders the opportunity to go to court. Doing so could possibly help them avoid fines and the other consequences such as points against their license, while also educating them on the importance of driving responsibly. While it may get teens, and ultimately their parents, off of the financial hook, there are still consequences that must be faced. This may sound like a great opportunity to young drivers, the court still has the right to impose a fine as well as other penalties such as traffic school, community service, a curfew, essays, or letters of apology.

Whether it is an excited teen who is just experiencing the freedom of driving or someone for whom driving has become a mundane task, it is not uncommon to overlook that safety is not always about how well we drive. It is also dependent upon the skills and abilities of our fellow drivers. When we turn our teens loose with a driver’s license, we can only hope that they learn what a great responsibility it carries without hurting themselves or others. If you or your teen has received a traffic ticket as the result of a traffic accident, don’t jump to the conclusion that traffic court, for teens or otherwise, is always your best solution. The quickest answer to a problem is not always the most appropriate, so give us a call at 954-967-9888 for a free consultation before you decide upon a course of action.