Maryland Car and Truck Crash Safety Chapter 4: Dealing with younger drivers.

In Clark and Steinhorn's continuing discussion of Maryland's proposed strategies for reducing crash fatalities and personal injuries, we are now on Chapter 4. Today's discussion emanates from the Maryland Highway Safety Offices Annual report for 2013 and concerns their proposals for addressing the unique issues presented by new drivers.

Obviously, new drivers present some extraordinary challenges which any parent can tell you about both from personal experience and from the insurance rates for young drivers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that the fatal crash rate for drivers 16 to 19 is three times as high as drivers 20 and over and that drivers 16 to 17 have a driving fatality rate double that of 18 to 19 year olds.

So what can reduce this deadly phenomenon? Apparently the answer is literature and snappily named parental involvement programs. Why there is "Every 15 Minutes" and "Courtesy on The Road" and of course "Power of Parents; It's Your Influence." Pardon my skepticism but having been a teenager it seems inconceivable that such programs would have a profound impact on reducing wrongful deaths on Maryland's roads.

Teens are barraged with programs and literature on sex, drugs, alcohol and goodness knows what else and somehow more of the same seems unlikely to make much impact. Parental programs are great for the parents but once the kids are on their own behind the wheel all bets are off.

At our local high school prom weekend invariably starts off with the wrecked car display at the high school to scare kids but how effective can this be when teen driver crashes are so prevalent? The answer is not very but what is the alternative?

Well, the first and most logical way of reducing teen crash fatalities and injuries is to reduce or eliminate teen drivers. Drivers license ages and requirements have crept up through the years and as we know, nationally and locally, crash deaths and injuries have for the most part been on a continuously downward trend. Some of this stems from the American vehicular fleet evolving to newer vehicles with the benefit of modern safety equipment such as airbags, anti-lock brakes and skid control but 18 year old drivers have developed more maturity than 16 year olds and if the actual licensing process takes longer and involves more practice, so much the better.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information at NIH cites inexperience as the number one factor for teen driving accidents so perhaps 16 is too young. My children were required to drive with an adult far longer to obtain a Maryland drivers license than we were when I was a new driver and that has to be beneficial.

N.C.B.I. also notes that the presence of passengers also substantially increases the incidence of teen crashes as well. The answer to that problem seems obvious, no passengers until age 18. Perhaps, young drivers should have to have an emblem on the outside of their vehicles identifying them as such and thereby alerting police and other drivers, who might otherwise be forgiving about aggressive driving behavior.

As with drivers of all ages, alcohol is also a significant contributing element in teen car and truck crashes. That teens have access to alcohol isn't shocking but they can go out and drive seems a fundamental failure on the parenting front. Perhaps, laws imputing civil and/or criminal responsibility to parents whose children are in alcohol-related crashes might serve better to make parents more vigilant than pamphlets?

Ultimately, if society is going to permit teenagers to drive then optimizing the circumstances under which they drive seems the best solution. No license until age 18, no passengers, no alcohol and more stringent enforcement of existing laws seems the only way to reduce the mayhem caused by teenage drivers in Maryland.

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Robert V. Clark
Maryland Car Accident and Personal Injury Lawyer