Save Our Teen Drivers

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

Archive for the ‘law’ Category

STANDUP must go beyond “no”

Posted by lapearce on October 5, 2010

Police Captain, and father of a teen killed in a car crash, speaks for STANDUP

The family members of teens killed in car crashes recently made a plea to Congress to pass the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection– or STANDUP— act.  The act would put uniform standards nation wide on drivers under the age of 18, increasing the rules that young drivers have to abide by.

Stricter teen driver laws, also known as graduated driver’s licenses, do a lot to reduce crashes and deaths among teens.  The laws do work, and uniform driving standards would be an excellent addition to our nation,  however, I think to truly stop the epidemic of teen driving deaths we have to go beyond telling teens “no”.

The real reason why car crashes account for 40 percent of teen deaths, in my opinion, is because of a lack of education on how to drive and over emphasis on what not to do.  Just saying no doesn’t work with teens– don’t driver after 10 p.m., don’t drive with friends, don’t drive with your cell phone– can encourage kids to act out by doing what they aren’t supposed to do.  The why do these no’s also aren’t fully enforced in current teen driving education.  Just saying no isn’t the solution, putting a teen in a car in a controlled environment and showing them the why behind the no can go much further.

Germany has much stricter driver’s education and driving laws than the United States do.  Not only do teens not get the opportunity to drive until they are 18, teens also go through much more intensive training (28 hours in the classroom and 35 hours behind the wheel compared to as little as no formal training in the United States) and a far more rigorous testing process.  Germany teens know that driving is a privilege, and they are made aware of the consequences of treating it as anything else.  As a result, teen driving deaths in Germany are far less than in the United States.

For teen driving deaths to drop in the United States we need a complete overhaul of the system, not just in the restrictions teen drivers face after they get their license, but in the training they receive before they are allowed to drive on our roads.  We need to change the mindset of the American public when it comes to driving.  It is a privilege and not a right, that paradigm shift within the American psyche will do a lot to curb teen driving deaths.

Posted in advice, dmv driver's training, law, parents, teen driver | Leave a Comment »

An open letter to the lawmakers of Nebraska in regards to teen driving laws

Posted by lapearce on February 7, 2010

Recently Nebraska introduced LB831 which would allow some fourteen-year-olds to drive to school. I am adamantly against allowing children this young to drive because of the inherent dangers. The argument for the bill is that it will save parents time. The argument against the bill is that it will cost young drivers their lives. This is the letter I have just sent to Sentator Utter, who introduced the bill, and the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. If you agree that it is dangerous to allow fourteen-year-olds to drive please send them a letter too.

Email addresses:

dutter@leg.ne.gov; fischer@leg.ne.gov; kcampbell@leg.ne.gov; tgay@leg.ne.gov; ghadley@leg.ne.gov; cjanssen@leg.ne.gov; slautenbaugh@leg.ne.gov; llouden@leg.ne.gov; astuthman@leg.ne.gov

Dear Senator Utter,

My name is Lauren Pearce, I am a teen driving instructor out of California and I am writing to urge you not to allow fourteen-year-olds to drive in your state. In the article I read on the bill you have proposed you mentioned that there hasn’t been much opposition to your bill other than “safety concerns raised about having more young drivers on the road.” I am here to offer some more reasons against letting children this young out on the road the most important one being saving the lives of young Nebraskans.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in America. Each year over 5,000 teens lose their lives in accidents; more than murder, suicide or drugs. Yet, for some reason, most people in the United States are completely unaware of this fact. For example, last year 4,000 Americans died of swine flu compared to 5,000 teens in car crashes, but which epidemic received more coverage? The sad thing is: teen driving deaths are just as avoidable as flu deaths if lawmakers, state DMVs and parents were to become aware of the problem and the solution that is out there.

The younger a teen driver is the more likely they are to be killed while driving. Teens who drive at fourteen are five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a sixteen-year-old. Sixteen-year-olds in turn are more likely to crash than seventeen-year-olds, who are more likely to crash than eighteen-year-olds. The chances of being involved in a crash steadily decreases with age as drivers gain maturity. If you compare a crash risk of a sixteen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old who have both been driving for the same amount of time, the eighteen-year-old will be safer and less likely to crash because of their increased maturity over the sixteen-year-old. To let fourteen-year-olds out on the road knowingly with the maturity level they possess isn’t just a safety concern for other drivers: it is murder.

I have a fifteen-year-old sister. I am very aware of the maturity level of children this age. My sister is a good student; she is mature for her age and has friends that are beyond her in years. But I would not hand her the keys to a 2-ton vehicle capable of triple digit speeds and say “go drive to school”. Because I love my sister and I want her to make it to sixteen.

Parents who allow teens as young as fifteen and fourteen to drive do so because they are unaware of the risks associated with letting teens of this age out on the road. I’m aware that Nebraska is a rural state and that many children have long distances to travel to school. So what’s next? Do we allow eight-year-olds to drive to save parents the hardship of driving them to elementary school? It parents can drive thirteen-year-olds to school why can’t they also drive fourteen-year-olds?

I grew up in a rural community far from the local high school. I woke up at 5:00AM very morning to get on the 6’o-clock bus to school. The bus would finally reach campus an hour and a half later. Every afternoon I did the same trip in reverse and typically didn’t get home until about 4:00PM even though class was out around 2:00. I did this day in and day out without any other options because in California you cannot drive until you are sixteen. Never did I or my parents consider attempting to change the law just to make it more convenient for us.  We endured like everyone else. I do not see how this should be any different in another state.

I cannot muster even an ounce of sympathy for the parents who want this law, because they are unaware of the potential harm they are bringing to their children. Setting up a carpool or taking your child to school is a far better alternative than having your flesh and blood killed in a car crash because they lack the experience and knowledge to operate a motor vehicle. Is that really worth the time saved for a parents?

I’m not sure if you are aware, but last month a third party organization, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, released its yearly review of states’ teen driving laws. Nebraska was dead last on the list with only 6.5 teen driving laws. In comparison the leader, the District of Columbia, has 13.5 laws.  DC also has a lot less teen fatalities than rural states like Nebraska, one of the reasons being the increased driving laws. Instead of attempting to improve your state’s standing and moving up this list, your law will only save Nebraska’s spot as the worst state for teen drivers for next year. It will cost the lives of teenagers as well as other motorists and make your state more dangerous and more deadly.

Laws alone cannot save lives. What we need is better driver’s education and parental involvement. Defensive driving courses where teens are put behind the wheel of real cars on a closed course are the best way to save lives. At these classes teens are taught maneuvers that will help them avoid crashes and also become aware of their limits as drivers and the limits of their vehicles. It is so much safer for a teen to learn his/her abilities when the only item he/she can hit is a cone, not a tree or another car. The benefits of programs that teach these skills in this way have been confirmed by AAA and other organizations; it’s unfortunate that more lawmakers aren’t aware of the benefits of defensive driving classes.

Parental involvement also reduces crashes significantly. Connecticut has had a lot of success with its new mandated two-hour education class for parents. I suggest that Nebraska also bring parents into the education process and help them understand the risks and challenges of new drivers and how they can help protect their teen through involvement.

Teen car crashes cost states millions of dollars each year. Better education, laws and parental involvement will save money as well as lives. Please, before you allow more young drivers on the road educate yourself to the dangers it will bring to them and other drivers and decide of the ends really justify the means in this case: http://www.cdc.gov/Motorvehiclesafety/Teen_Drivers/index.html

Thank you for your consideration,

Lauren Pearce

Posted in advocacy, Graduated Driver's Licenses, law, parents | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

New Pennsylvania driving laws will fund driver’s education

Posted by lapearce on February 1, 2010

Chairman of the House Transportation Committee in Pennsylvania, Rep. Joseph Markosek, knows that it takes more than laws to get people to change how they drive, “People have a responsibility when operating a 4,000-pound battering ram… We can only legislate up to a certain point.” Few truer words have ever been spoken by a member of government on driving.

This if new driving laws are passed 75 percent of the revenue from tickets issued for breaking the laws will go directly to distracted driving education. I wish the funds would go into driving education instead of just distracted driving education, which only focuses on a small part of the driving problem and doesn’t do anything to teach people how to drive, but with the insanity of driving laws and the poor standards of education that exist in this country anything is an improvement.

The bill that has been passed by the House but still awaits passage by Senate, would make talking on the phone while driving a primary offense for all drivers, meaning a police officer could pull you over if you are on the phone but not breaking any other laws.  Not wearing a seat belt will also be a primary offense for teen drivers and new drivers will be required to have 65 hours of in car practice before they get their license instead of 50 hours (so a lot more kids will be forging their driving logs).

The legislation still needs to be merged with Senate legislation then approved by the governor. It’s a good step in the right direction even if it is a small one. Pennsylvania would get more bang-for-its buck if it stepped up driver’s ed to focus more on driving skills and defensive driving instead of focusing on short-sighted campaigns that only talk about the dangers of cellphones and maybe have participates do a quick driving course with a phone attached to their ear.

Posted in Graduated Driver's Licenses, law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Nebraska blantently ignores safe driving recommendations

Posted by lapearce on January 27, 2010

Earlier this month Nebraska was named the worst state in the union for new drivers due to its pathetically lacking laws and enforcement of the recommended graduated drivers license requirements. You would think after being named the worst state in the nation for new drivers that Nebraska would try to increase its enforcement of new drivers to try and safe lives, but instead, the exact opposite is happening: Nebraska legislatures are trying to allow 14-year-olds to drive.

Now, I apologize for all the poor busy Nebraska parents who are simply too busy to shuttle their brood to school events, but I can’t be sympathetic. Form a carpool for Christ’s sake, have your kids walk, but to put the lives of your children and other Nebraska drivers at risk because you don’t like to drive your child around is a pretty sad and pathetic excuse, especially since parents in practically every other state seem to do it just fine without their 14-year-olds operating a 2-ton piece of machinery capable of over 100mph.

The new law would allow 14-year-old students living a mile and a half from school (i.e. biking distance) to drive to school functions. This privilege is already extended to rural students who likely don’t have the offerings of a bus route, or parents willing to put their child’s safety over their own schedules.

Senator Dennis Utter says that despite the fact that the younger the teen is the more likely they are to crash, and despite the fact that it is recommended that children don’t get their permits until they are sixteen, there isn’t much opposition to the bill just safety concerns raised about having more young drivers on the road.

Nebraska, get your head out of the sand and look around. You can’t drop lower than the worst state for driving laws, but you seem to be making every attempt to rank #51 next year.

Posted in Graduated Driver's Licenses, law, parents, teen driver | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Is it an accident or a crash? Who is to blame when your teen wrecks a car?

Posted by lapearce on August 25, 2009

Warning sticker about roll over risk, speed, abrupt manouvers and seatbelts in an SUV

Warning sticker about roll over risk, speed, abrupt maneuvers and seatbelts in an SUV

Many people in the auto safety industry refuse to call wrecks accidents. That is because an accident implies that no one was at fault. That everything just happened and the drivers involved could not have stopped the collision no matter what they did. Typically that isn’t the case. Even when vehicle failure causes a crash a lack of maintenance on the driver’s fault is the actual cause. Instead, we call wrecks crashes. It is more accurate as it doesn’t assume that no fault can be assigned.

Now that the word accident is out of your teen driving vocabulary, who is at fault when your teen crashes? Let’s look at the case of Brandon Hodges of Jacksonville Florida. He was driving a Ford Explorer with nine people in it when a tire blew out. He was unable to control the car and it flipped. Only Hodges was wearing a seat belt and four teens were tragically killed in the crash.

The families of Hodges and one of the victims blame the tire manufacturer for the crash. Bobbie Krebs, mother of one of the teens killed said,

“The person to blame is the person that made that tire. … I’m not going to let him [Brandon] take the fall for them.”

But is Brandon taking the fall for the tire company, or is the tire company taking the fall for Brandon? Brandon was fifteen at the time of the crash. He didn’t have a license and was allowed to drive. He was driving a car with more passengers than seat belts (not that it mattered much since no one was using those belts). He was speeding.

But Hodge’s lawyer says none of these things are a factor in the crash, that it is all the fault of Cooper Tire who made the tire. He adds that the case reminds him of the Firestone lawsuit nine years ago. That comment reminds me of a cop out and dollar signs.

A number of Ford Explorers rolled about a decade ago due to defective Firestone tires that suffered from tread

A tire defect PLUS underinflation caused Explorer roll overs

A tire defect PLUS underinflation caused Explorer roll overs

separation when the tire was underinflated.Yes, the tire was defective, but a driver who properly maintained his/her SUV’s tire pressure was immune to the defect. Fact is tires rarely blow out without reason. Typically they are under inflated, over inflated or bald. Sometimes they hit an object in the road causing damage to them. But even in the case of the Firestone roll over scandal owners were also at fault for the crashes they were involved in. They were not accidents, they were crashes. They were avoidable.

“When under inflated, all radial tires generate excessive heat,” Crigger said. “Driving on tires in this condition can lead to tread separation. Maintaining the proper inflation level will enhance the performance and lifespan of these tires.” –Firestone

Even if the tire on Hodge’s girlfriend’s family’s SUV was defective it doesn’t detract from the fact that he was unlicensed and speeding. Just because a blow out happens doesn’t mean a crash is inevitable as well. Proper driver’s training and experience give people the necessary skills to remain control after a blow out. As an unlicnsed driver, these are two things that Hodges definitely did not possess. Would it have been completely avoidable with a licensed driver? No. People panic and they react poorly in emergency situations. Is there a higher probability that the crash would have been avoided with a licensed driver? Yes. 100%.

What message do we send to teens when we blame others for their actions?

Teens all across Florida are learning right now that they aren’t at fault when something goes wrong with their car because of the actions of Hodge’s family and lawyer. Hodges did still break the law, regardless of what other factors went into the crash and he should be held responsible for doing so. In our litigious society where everyone sues everyone for everything we are constantly shifting blame. I think we are breeding a generation of people who will feel that they are not responsible for their actions and fail to own up to them or work to resolve them.

Should parents be held responsible for the actions of their teens?

By holding parents responsible you are shifting the blame away from the teen. Even though that is true, parents can still be held responsible for their teen’s actions and have an effect on what their young drivers do. From a legal perspective you are responsible for what your teen does up until the age of 18. Anything they do wrong behind the wheel can come back to you in the form of one of the lawsuits I mentioned in the last section.

I do believe that some crashes are partially caused by negligent parents. Parents control their teens driving. Parents who do not enforce graduated drivers license rules, or who do not take away the keys when their teen is being dangerous on the road have some responsibility in their teen’s actions. Parents need to remember that teen brains have not fully developed and they do not recognize risk the same way adults do. What is stupid and dangerous to us is fun to them. Parents need to watch over their teen drivers and not be afraid to take away the keys if their young drivers are not being safe.

Of course, Hodge’s family is just trying to keep Brandon out of jail and if that means throwing Cooper Tire under the bus that is what they’ll do to keep their sixteen-year-old out of the big house. I’m sure many parents would lie if it meant keeping their child out of prison. It is hard to blame them for the goal they are trying to achieve, but I criticize them for the methods they are employing.

Posted in advice, crash, law, parents, teen driver | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in DMV, dmv driver's training, Graduated Driver's Licenses, law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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).

Posted in advocacy, law, program | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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?

Congress.

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.

Posted in advocacy, law, nhtsa, scandal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

New York comes through with teen driving law!

Posted by lapearce on July 16, 2009

Crash caused by a cell phone

Crash caused by a cell phone

I had given up on New York after the legislature showed that they were more concerned with who was in charge than doing their job. However, late is better than never. Today, the New York State Legislature passed a bill that would require 50 hours behind the wheel training (up from 20), require learning permits for six months, restrict non-relative teen passengers to one if no adult is in the car, as well as ban cell phones, texting and all other electronic use (including ipods) for all drivers. Gone, however, is the language that would not allow teens to bargain against speeding tickets. A seat belt requirement was removed from the bill earlier in the year.

This legislation is much needed in New York. I  don’t know how anyone could argue that texting while driving is safe. The restrictions on passengers and the increease in behind the wheel time will only help, not hurt. So why 57 percent of News Day readers think the current laws are good enough, that I don’t understand. I don’t think they realize how dangerous it is out there for new drivers. And that is part of the problem.

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Deathly crash may lead to teen driving legislation in New Mexico

Posted by lapearce on July 15, 2009

The teens car after the fatal crash

The teens' car after the fatal crash

It was after midnight on Sunday, June 28 in Santa Fe New Mexico. Five teens were driving to a house party having just left a Sonic restaurant. In the other direction was driving 28-year-old Scott Owens with a blood alcohol level of .16, twice the legal limit. He crossed over the center divider in front of the car full of teens. In an instant four young lives were lost, and the only survivor left in critical condition. As for Owens, as so often happens in these cases, received only minor injuries.

Crashes like this often times lead to public outcry. Instead of outcry over drunk driving, however, in this case, the outcry is for better restrictions on teen drivers. Maybe if New Mexico didn’t allow provisional drivers to have passengers only one teen would have died that night. Maybe if New Mexico didn’t allow provisional drivers to drive after 10 p.m. no lives would have been lost.

Problem with that thinking is: it already is illegal in New Mexico for teen drivers to do these things.

So then why fight for more laws against teens when the problem in this case was a fully licensed adult who was driving drunk? David McGinnis, a driving instructor who lobbied 10 years ago for the graduated drivers liecnse in New Mexico says the problem isn’t the law: it’s the parents. If parents were enforcing the GDL on their teens, perhaps the kids would not have been on the road when Owens went into oncoming traffic. Or, perhaps they did have strict rules that were being broken at the time, we don’t know.

Lawmakers are considering putting stickers on teens cars to show they have provisional licenses or increase the restriction time until the drivers are 18. The only way these provisions would have prevented this crash would have been if the teens were pulled over by a police officer who saw the sticker and noticed that the teens were breaking curfew and passenger laws.

New Mexico already has very comprehensive drunk driving laws. The state was the first in the nation to require ignition interlock for all convicted drunk drivers. The system does not allow the car to start if the driver has been drinking. There isn’t much room for improvement on drunk driving legislation in New Mexico, which is perhaps why this crash is being used as a cry for better teen driving laws, instead of better drunk driving laws.

It is true that if GDL laws were being followed this crash would not have happened. However, if Owens had not been drinking and driving, the crash would not have happened either. He’s the one at fault here and he’s the one who should be, and will be, punished for what happened. Four lives were lost because of bad decisions that were made, but putting stickers on cars will not bring those lives back. McGinnis is right, the answer is to enforce the laws that already exist before putting more restrictions on new drivers that run the risk of not being followed. That is the best way to honor the lives lost on June 28.

Posted in crash, DMV, Graduated Driver's Licenses, law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »