Save Our Teen Drivers

Advocating for driver's education changes. Educating the public on the problem. Finding a solution that saves lives.

Archive for July, 2009

US and New York look at text messaging bans, but do they work?

Posted by lapearce on July 29, 2009

Car and Driver found texting to be more dangerous than drunk driving

Car and Driver found texting to be more dangerous than drunk driving

Earlier this week The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a study showing that texting makes drivers 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash. This study adds to the volume of information now available about texting. Other research has found that texting reduces reaction time 35 percent, and steering ability by 95 percent. It has also been said that texting while driving may be more dangerous than drinking while driving. Everyone knows it is dangerous, but people still text while they drive. Some lawmakers are trying to stop them, but will the laws make a difference?

Our good friend Charles Shumer or New York, who is currently trying to create a nation wide driver’s ed program, is backing a bill that would ban text messaging nationwide that was introduced today. The law would require states to ban text messaging or risk losing 25 percent of its highway funding.

The Legislature in Shumer’s home state New York passed its own texting ban this week as well, but it is only a secondary offense. If it becomes law, drivers in New York can only receive a texting ticket if they are pulled over for braking another law as well, probably failure to maintain a lane, or after they hit someone. But if Shumer thinks that texting bans are so important, why is his own state failing to make a texting ban a priority? More importantly: will these bans actually stop people from texting behind the wheel?

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) does not yet support bans on text messaging because of the difficulty of enforcing them. People also still use their phones in states where it is illegal to do so. California is seeing a lack of compliance to its cell phone laws a year after motorists were told to hang up and drive.

Will texting bans just deture people from finding better solutions to the problem because they will think it has been solved? Or is there any solution that will stop people from using their phone while they drive short of devices that render them useless inside cars, such as Zoomsafer. People like the conveinence of a cell phone and let me tell you from personal experience: they call it a Crackberry for a reason.  For now, I am sure, law or no law,  people will keep texting, tweeting, emailing, facebooking and good olf fashion chatting on the phone while they drive.

I would like to hear your thoughts, but please, pull over first.


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Texas has nation’s safest teen drivers

Posted by lapearce on July 28, 2009

The fatal crash rate in Texas decreased nearly 33 percent last year, more than double the national average. Texas has graduated driving laws, however 33 states are rated as having better GLD requirements than Texas. Also, states with similar laws did not have the same drop off in deaths as Texas did. So what is Texas’s secret? According to the Texas Transportation Institute the difference is peer programs.

These peer influence programs encourage positive peer pressure among teens. The program, “Teens in the Driver Seat” help teens teach each other about high-risk driving situations such as: night driving, drinking and driving, speeding and cell phone use.

250,000 Texas Teens have gone through the program, which motivates teens to become an active part of the solution by offering incentives to develop their own messages about safe driving. The full program currently costs Texas $1 million to run. The state has most likely saved far more than that from the reduced number of crashes.

Why do peer programs work? Alberto Torres, 17 says it well:

“Teenagers don’t always listen to adults… but we do listen to each other.”

It makes complete sense. One of the main reasons why passenger use is looked down upon for teen drivers is because of the possibility of negative peer pressure causing teens to engage in dangerous activities, such as speeding and not wearing their seat belts. If teens can have this negative impact on each other, why can’t they also have a positive impact. If it is cool to wear your seat belt or drive safety teens can be pressured into doing these things.

People who argue for the need of graduated drivers license will need to reassess their feelings after seeing what Texas has done. Texas has some of the weakest GDLs in the country. The state is also the only one in the nation to not require a behind-the-wheel test for new drivers and does not mandate formal driving education classes. For a fraction of the cost of what it would take to implement these programs Texas accomplished more by encouraging teens to help each other. It’s real food for thought for how we are handling the teen crash epidemic in this country. As I’ve been saying for a long time: simply telling teens what to do is not the answer.

Posted in Graduated Driver's Licenses, Studies | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

it’s a dmv day

Posted by lapearce on July 27, 2009

I’m posting from the line at the DMV fun, right? my punishment for putting off re registering my car until the last minute. Like any day at the DMV I’m surrounded by parents and teens scared and anxious to get their licenses (emotion depends on if you are talking about the parent or the teen).

I have to wonder how many of them know what dangerous journey they are about to embark on. Do the parents know how important their involvement is? Do they know the risks their teen is about to take part in? Do the teens know that there is a good chance that one of them won’t survive until graduation?

I want to talk to all of them. I want to ask them how ready they are to drive and how able their parents are to help them. I know most of them only did the DMV required classes and a good amount of them lied about driving for 50 hours. I also know that none of them are ready emotionally, mentally and physically for the enormous responsibility we are putting on them. Too young to drink, do young to vote, too young to go to war: but old enough to die in a car crash. I pray all of them make it.

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New online community created for teen drivers

Posted by lapearce on July 27, 2009

AAA has created in the hopes to give teens a place to share their on-road experiences with other teens. The forum is brand new with very few posts, none of which seem to be from teens yet. Also, only a handful of AAA chapters are taking part in the forum. If you are in one of the 45 other states that aren’t involved, it looks like you are out of luck.

I just lied in order to get in, since California is not a part of the forum. I’m very curious what the teens will talk about. I think I know, because one of the other car based web forums I frequent has an average age of 18. Most of the conversations there are about how to make cars faster, and how they beat another car on the road, and “omg my parents are going to kill me I got in a crash”.

I’m very curious to see how the AAA moderators will reign in these types of comments. I don’t think you can avoid them when you are talking about teens and cars. Teens get in more crashes than any other drivers because they drive more recklessly than any other drivers. They like talking about this too. Bragging about tickets, 130mph runs on the freeways, and risky canyon driving. I’m going to register at to see whats being send, and hopefully guide teens in the right direction. A true challenge on the internet, I know from experience.

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How much behind the wheel training is enough for new drivers?

Posted by lapearce on July 24, 2009

In the United States we have varying requirements for behind the wheel training for new drivers. Some states require 25, others 30, but the best states require 50. These requirements all pale in comparison to Australia’s mandated 120 hours of behind the wheel training. However, Barrie Sinclair, professional driver and driving instructor, argues that it isn’t nearly enough time for drivers to become confident behind the wheel.

I have heard it say that it takes five years before someone becomes an average driver. Not Mario Andredi, just a good enough driver as the rest of the bad drivers out there. Five years. So Mr. Sinclair has a great point that 120 hours, or five days, of experience, is not nearly enough to equipt teens with the knowledge they need to be safe on the road.

One of the biggest problems, he finds, is that many teens don’t drive the 120 hours that are required. A survey of 1300 Australian teens found that 40 percent lied, or knew someone who lied, about their hours. Sound familiar mom and dad? We do it here too for a third of the hours.

The other problem, says Sinclair, is inexperience.

“They tend to think that they are bullet-proof and 10-feet tall… Virtually all of them come to see me when they are nearing the end of their 120 hours and tell me they are going for their license in three weeks and that they will get it. I don’t think they are ready but then they go for their test and they get given a license.”…

“As soon as they get their license they take off on a trip to Sydney or down the coast… They have not had any life experience outside of their 120 hours, which is nothing. It’s scary and it needs to be addressed.”

Mr. Sinclair thinks the problem needs to be addressed with more education and yes, more training. He wants driver education to be in high school cirriculum and required time in the car with a driving instructor, which Australia currently doesn’t have a law on. He thinks that boiling down education to a piddly 120 hours of in-car training has killed driver’s education in Australia.

More education comes at a cost. I feel that is one of the biggest reasons why more education isn’t required in the United States, Australia or many other countries where the love for the road and the mindset that driving is a right and not a privilage, overshadows the want to create good, safe drivers. Here in the United States, where the best states require less than half of the drive time Australia requires for permitted drivers, parents complain that driver’s education is too costly.

I would like to remind them that the average cost of a crash in the United States is $19,000 and that car crashes are the cause for nearly 40 percent of teen deaths. Yet they complain about the cost of a class that is less than most insurance deductibles. Talk about having their priorities askew! Until it happens to them it isn’t real. But until it happens to them, they may no longer have a child, or at the very least, be out of pocket thousands of dollars in insurance deductibles and increases. It is far less costly to prevent the crash through proper education, please, refocus your attention on making your child the best driver they can be, and not on your pocket book.

Posted in dmv driver's training, driving school, Graduated Driver's Licenses | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Connecticut DMV says teen driving laws are working

Posted by lapearce on July 24, 2009

Speeding convictions have dropped 43% over the past two years in Conn.

Speeding convictions have dropped 43% over the past two years in Conn.

Teen driving laws that took effect about a year ago in Connecticut seem to be making an impact. The DMV says there has been a drop in fatalities caused by teen drivers as well as a significant drop in convictions for driving-related offenses among teenagers.

The laws, which took effect last August, included stricter curfews for new drivers, more on-the-road training and tougher drunk driving penalties.

A recent study out of Australia showed that inforcement is a very good way to make teens follow laws. The fear of getting caught is more than the fear of dying among new drivers, it seems. These laws save lives and not enough states have them. However, just because a state has a shiney new graduated driver’s license law doesn’t mean that education should be shelved. Teaching teens how to drive is still far more important than just punishing them for making mistakes.

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Senator aims to improve teen driver education

Posted by lapearce on July 23, 2009

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has set his eye on drivers education reform when many people in Congress are engrossed on “reforming” other things. Sen. Schumer has proposed a bill that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to create a curriculum that includes in-class and in-car lessons, and create a grant program to fund local classrooms that use the program.

The program is meant to be supplemental to existing programs, now would not be required for a license. Schumer says he hopes that parents, schools and churches will encourage involvement. I wonder how successful that would be.

Also, it is not clear how this program would fit in with another act trying to solve the teen driving problem called STANDUP, which would require all states to have the same teen driving laws. Schumer is not an author of that act so I am unsure of what his stance is on it since it has yet to be debated or voted on. A search of his Web site came up with no mention of STANDUP or his opinion on it.

The cost of the program is an estimated $25 million a year, a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $36 billion teen car crashes cost the society in 2006. But I want to make sure the money is spent right: in creating a truely good curriculum that fully addresses the flaws in the current system and fixes them. It needs to have a defensive driving component and it needs to involve parents. Otherwise, it’s just throwing money away (government’s favorite past time).

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Study finds teens like to learn the hard way while driving

Posted by lapearce on July 21, 2009

A recent study by the George Institute for International Health out of Australia found that teens often times do not listen to the warnings given to them in driver’s education and instead insist on learning the hard way out on the road. The study found that driver’s education does not encourage teens to drive safely and only the fear of repercussions (i.e. tickets) will force teens to drive safely.

“No one has been able to demonstrate any really good safety benefits in driver education in giving people information about risk.” said Associate Professor Rebecca Ivers.

I agree with Ivers. Yes, I am a driving instructor and I agree with her that driver education does not give people information about risks. That is because it doesn’t, and that is why I do not teach for a DMV approved school, but for a non-profit that focuses on teaching what the risks are, why they exist and what drivers can do to avoid them.

Current DMV drivers education is absolutely worthless in this country. We tell teens what to do and what not to do, but we don’t show them the why. Failing to give proper explanation or illustration for the rules we expect them to follow just encourages them to push the envelope, in my opinion.

I don’t think we can rely on the police to encourage teens to drive safety either. There aren’t enough of them to enforce the laws to make that big of an impact, especially now as budget cuts are hitting every level of government. Teens need to be afraid of their parents as well. Parents NEED to be able to wield control over their teens with clearly laid out rules and punishments for not following them. Here is a great article in the Examiner about one inattentive teen with a lead foot, and parents who would not enforce the rules they set to protect her from herself.

Everyone who is involved in teen driving knows that the current driver’s education isn’t up to par. But at the same time, states that don’t require driver’s ed have more crashes than states that do require it. It obviously has some impact on how new drivers act on the road, but it can have so much more. We need to mandate car control/defensive driving in our driver’s education classes! We need to show teens the risk so that they don’t find it on their own.

Currently Congress is looking to enact STANDUP, a law that would have nation-wide teen driving laws, instead of on a state-by-state basis right now. This law does not have any provision for defensive driving training. Please write the authors of STANDUP and your representatives (link on right hand side) and urge them to look into this as a way to fix our broken driver’s education.

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NHTSA knew risks about cell phones but did not act!

Posted by lapearce on July 21, 2009

What would cause a public agency that was formed to protect you, the consumer, to sit on hundreds of pages of research that said driving while talking on the phone was dangerous? Why would provoke an agency that’s mission is to: “save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activity.” to not do what it was formed to do?


Or at least, the fear of Congress. That is what provoked the NHTSA to not act on undeniable proof that cell phones lead to crashes. The agency worried that if it was to start promoting this research to the states it would come off as lobbying. It worried that if Congress thought it was lobbying, it would pull billions of transportation funds from the agency.

The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen used the public information act to access this information, uncovering quite the scandal in the NHTSA, the Transportation Department, and potentially the House Appropriations Committee. The documents can be views here. In one of the memos uncovered these quotes:

“We nevertheless have concluded that the use of cellphones while driving has contributed to an increasing number of crashes, injuries and fatalities.”

“We therefore recommend that the drivers not use wireless communication devices, including text messaging systems, when driving, except in an emergency.”

NHTSAs mission is to save lives... by hiding information that can save lives?

NHTSA's mission is to save lives... by hiding information that can save lives?

In total, cell phones have been blamed for 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents  in 2002. These numbers have most likely increased since cell phone use has increased from 77 percent of adults to 89 percent of adults from 2006.

The rational behind the decision of the Transportation Department is mind boggling. Here is an organization designed to save lives, and yet they are sitting on information that could save lives because they don’t want to lose funding?

Director of the Center for Auto Safety, Clarence Ditlow put it this way: “We’re looking at a problem that could be as bad as drunk driving, and the government has covered it up.”

So what will come of this? A slap on the hand? Or worse? Perhaps lawsuits from those injured or by the family members of people who were killed? I think it is common sense that talking on the phone and driving is dangerous. I don’t think we need a government agency to spend millions of dollars to confirm that cell phone use while driving is dangerous. But the reasoning for not confirming this is completely unacceptable.

Ditmore says it well: “No public health and safety agency should allow its research to be suppressed for political reasons,” and doing so “will cause deaths and injuries on the highways.”

We need to see where else this is happening. What other agencies aren’t doing potentially life saving research for fear of losing funding? And why would Congress pull funding when an agency does its job? Changes obviously need to be made.

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Free handbook to help parents with teen drivers.

Posted by lapearce on July 20, 2009

Teaching your teen how to drive can be a stressful and frightening endevor. Luckily, there are tools out there deisgned to help parents during this important part of your teen’s life. Remember: your involvement reduces the chance that your teen is involved in a crash, so do everything you can to be a part of your teen’s driver’s training, licensing and driving.

To help you during this difficult time Metlife has created a handbook that has been endorsed by the NHTSA. This handbook will help you with:

  • Staying cool as a copilot
  • What to do before each trip
  • Helping your teen see
  • Helping them follow in traffic
  • Controlling speeds
  • Safe space and the vehicle
  • Deciding where to go
  • Communicating on the road.

Metlife will mail this book to you free of charge.

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