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Article Archive >> Featured Topics

Driving: Risky Business for Teens?

Driving: Risky Business for Teens?
by Joanna D. Brenner

Sometimes it seems as though the ever-changing lives of teenagers become even more fast-paced once they get behind the wheel. Social scenes get plucked from quiet living rooms to capital beltways. But are teens at risk?
From 1996 to 2000, over one out of 10 licensed teen drivers in Maryland was involved in a crash, according to parentsofyoungdrivers.com. It's no surprise that a slew of new rules have been developed for teen drivers since 2005.
Effective October 1, 2005, drivers must now be at least 16 years and three months of age to obtain a driver's license, as opposed to 16 years and one month, prior to the new bill. Also, during the first five months in which drivers hold their provisional licenses, if they are under 18 years old, they are not permitted to drive with passengers under the age of 18, unless accompanied by a direct family member, according to www.marylandmva.com. These drivers are also prohibited from using cellular phones while driving.
"The new laws strengthen current laws that apply to drivers who are 18 years of age or younger," said Buel Young, a spokesperson for the Maryland MVA.
But how do teens feel about these new laws?
"I don't necessarily think pushing the age back was a good idea," said 17-year-old high school student Alden Tuck. "Younger people aren't necessarily more prone to accidents. Older people may not have a quick reaction time either. I do think the new cell phone law may have helped though."
High school student Molly Dogget said, "A lot of people my age complained about having to wait longer to get your license. It's really been making a lot of teenagers angry."
But according to www.marylandmva.com, drivers in the age group of 15-20 years old are at the highest risk for a fatal car crash. But why? According to parentsofyoungdrivers.com, drivers in this age group have less experience driving in "high risk conditions." Not only is it harder to see the road and what lies ahead in rough weather or while driving at night, but these conditions also increase a driver's stress and fatigue.
"By the end of the day my contacts get really dried out and my eyes get tired, so I still try to avoid driving a lot at night," said 21-year-old college student Tim Helmer. "I think it's a good idea that teen drivers get more practice now in different conditions so they're more prepared."
Because the MVA has found that teen drivers are at a higher risk than any other age group behind the wheel, actually obtaining the physical license can be a long and winding road in itself. In addition to submitting certified proof that they have completed a standard driver education course, teen drivers must also submit a log signed by a "qualified supervising driver" showing they have fulfilled the minimum requirement of 60 hours of practice driving while holding a learner's permit.
"When I had my learner's permit, I was only required to drive for 40 supervised hours, and I thought that was really hard," said college student Aileen Brenner. "When you're in high school with other teenage siblings, and doing extracurricular activities, and both your parents work full time, it's really difficult to coordinate everybody's schedules to get those hours."
As always, before taking their road test, teens must still complete a standard driver education course before receiving their provisional driver's licenses. Teens looking for a good program in the Washington County area should consider the following MVA approved driver education schools: Widmyer Driving School, 301-791-7676; Allegany Driving School, 301-766-0087; Leasure's Driving School, 301-582-2368.
The Maryland Web site for Parents of Young Drivers lists having teen passengers, adjusting the radio, cell phones, eating and drinking and personal grooming as some of the top inside distractions for teens while driving. "Adding one passenger doubles the risk of a fatal crash among 16-17 year old drivers (Chen et al., 2000)," according to the Web site. The Web site also states that studies have shown that teens are less likely than adults to wear their seatbelts 100 percent of the time while driving or as a passenger. Teens who still feel unsafe when they get behind the wheel should consider the following safety tips:
1. Don't text and drive. Even worse than talking on a cell phone, sending text messages while driving requires attention to a cell phone screen rather than the road ahead.
2. If it starts to rain, immediately slow down. Drivers are at a higher risk during the beginning of a rainstorm when the ground is the most slippery.
3. ALWAYS wear a seatbelt, even if a drive is only three minutes long. According to parentsofyoungdrivers.com, Maryland has a primary seatbelt enforcement law, meaning a citation with a fee can be issued to any driver or passenger not wearing a seatbelt.
4. Don't use driving as a way to blow off steam. Strong emotions only lead to dangerous driving.
5. Decide which lane to stay in while driving on the highway. In a 1997 national survey, 63% of drivers in the 16-20 age group were reported as aggressive drivers for unsafe lane switching.

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