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 ‘Studies’ Category

Teenage girls are becoming more agressive on the road

Posted by lapearce on February 4, 2010

I guess that whole gender equality movement has finally peaked with the upcoming generation. A recent Allstate survey found that while teen boys are becoming calmer behind the wheel teen girls are increasingly taking part in risky behavior. Girls are also more likely to text while they drive– one in four are guilty of it.

The old assumptions that parents and insurance companies have had about girls being safer on the road than boys is coming to a screeching halt and girls prove that they can be dangerous too. If you have a teen daughter don’t feel as though she’ll be safe because she isn’t “aggressive”. As the old Disney cartoon “Motor Mania” showed, people become different when they are behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Studies have actually shown that we de-humanize people when they are surrounded by steal– or even the helmet of a motorcycle. We don’t react to them as people, we react to them as ‘cars’. This de-humanizing allows us to drop our typical societal norms of politeness and to treat people how we wouldn’t treat them if they weren’t in a vehicle. Would you ever cut in front of someone in line at the grocery store? Probably not. They will likely tap you on the shoulder and point to the end of the line. But how many of us have cut in front of other cars? No shoulder tapping, no pointing, a honk is easy enough to escape.

Girls need to be reminded that they are not immune to problems on the road. The dangers of distractions need to be drilled in them more than boys and both sexes need all the education they can get on how to be safe drivers.

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Study shows that cell phone laws don’t work

Posted by lapearce on January 29, 2010

You are four times more likely to crash if you are talking on a phone while drive than when you are not. In light of this fact the government came up with a solution: take phones away. Make it illegal and people will stop talking, crashes will drop, people will sing hallelujah! Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.  The results are in and “surprising”. According to a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Institute for Highway Safety cell phone bans do not reduce the number of crashes.

“You know that there should be fewer [crashes],” he said. “We were looking for that, and we aren’t seeing that pattern,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Institute.

So does this mean that people are ignoring the bans? Actually, what is surprising about this is that people are not ignoring the bans. Cell phone use in states where it is banned has been cut 41-76 percent. Even though fewer people are chatting, the same number of people are crashing. It is counter-intuitive based on the higher crash risk while on the phone. So have Americans simply ceased to know how to drive? I’m starting to think they have.

There are two big problems with cell phone bans. First, in most states hands-free devices are still legal, but just as dangerous. The danger doesn’t come from holding a phone to your ear, it comes from your brain deciding that the conversation is more important than driving, which takes critical attention away from the more important task at hand: operating a two-ton machine at a high rate of speed. The second problem is that the most dangerous aspects of cell phone use are not illegal. These are: activating your bluetooth, dialing a number, answering the phone, etc etc etc all of which take your eyes off the road longer than the act of talking.

The other aspect is that while cell phone use is down, distractions are still up. GPS, Ipods, Starbucks. All of these items didn’t exist in cars 20 years ago, but now they are all but required. I also feel that people no longer stop to do what should be done when stopped. It was difficult to read a map and drive because the map was three feet across, folded 12 different ways and took a lot of attention. So you stopped to pull the map out and find your way. GPS is not three feet across and folded, but it can still be distracting, especially when you are plugging that address in.

People need to just get their eyes back on the road. Pull over to find your favorite CD or directions to Aunt Betsy’s house. Don’t think that just because you aren’t on the phone that you can’t be distracted.

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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.

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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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Texting while driving is worse than drinking and driving.

Posted by lapearce on July 13, 2009

Car & Drivers texting vs. drunk driving results

Car & Driver's texting vs. drunk driving stop distance results

One of my fellow driving instructors, Steve, was driving to work last week when he saw a Ford Expedition that was having trouble maintaining his lane. He looked over and saw the woman driving the SUV was texting. His carpool passengers watched her as Steve drove and noticed that sometimes she would drive for a full 20 seconds without looking up.

Steve looked ahead and saw that traffic had come to a stop. He looked over again and saw that the woman was still looking down. He announced, “She’s going to hit someone” and slowed down so that someone wouldn’t be him. What happened next he still can’t believe he witnessed.

She came up on the stopped traffic going about 50mph. She looked up just feet before hitting an SUV in front of her. She tried to brake but by then it was too late. Steve dialed 911 before the crash even happened in order to report the inevitable. He then stopped to check on the drivers. The woman’s airbags had deployed and the entire front of her SUV was destroyed. He went up to her window and asked if she was alright. Her response was:

I don’t know what happened.

Distractions are dangerous. I think people know that even as they willingly take part in these distractions. They just feel it won’t happen to them, or they are a better driver and are able to overcome what others can’t. You just can’t get away from the cold, hard facts about texting while driving, however, it is more dangerous than driving drunk.

The Transport Research Labratory in the U.K. found that texting reduces reaction time by 35 percent, compared to 12 percent for drinking and driving. Scarier still, the study found that steering ability decreased 95 percent while texting. So not only do you have a third less time to react to what is happening on the road, you have nearly no ability to avoid any emergency.

Car and Driver also recently did a study on how texting and driving compares to drunk driving and found the same results. In one test, one of the drivers went nearly 300 feet longer before braking than he did while driving drunk. That is the difference of a football field! Would you blindfold yourself and run the length of a football field with other people and objects on the field for you to hit? Probably not, that could be painful, and yet drivers do this every time they text message while driving.

Even with this information, 60 percent of teens admit to texting while driving.

So how can we help? Bans only work if they are enforced and no one wants their child to learn the hard way with a crash. I would look to enroll your child in a defensive driving school that goes over the dangers of distractions. In our class we have kids master a slalom, then once they are confident in their skills, we have them do it again while trying to pick up an object meant to be their cell phone. Then we have them run through it again with them pretending to talk on their cell phone.

The results are amazing. Cones go everywhere, parents step way back, and some of the teens come to a complete stop in the “road” because they are so distracted. We don’t do this with them texting, because it would be impossible to go between cones while doing so, and after trying to do the course with a cell phone to their ear, the teens recognize that.

Yesterday I had one student say, “Being on a cell phone is more dangerous than I thought!” and another said she realized now just how much she had to pay attention to while driving, and the thought of adding distraction was too scary to imagine.

If you don’t have access to a car control clinic I recommend getting some cones and going to an empty and open parking lot. Create a course and help your child drive through it. Once they’ve mastered it, have them do it again pretending to be on their phone. Ride with them as you do this so if they accidently hit the gas (it can happen) you can quickly gain control. They’ll see the difference, and so will you.

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Over half of Texas teens admit to drinking and driving, but the survey doesn’t stop there

Posted by lapearce on June 16, 2009

A recent Allstate survey of teen driving habits in Texas came across some shocking results. The study, which surveyed teens in 11 different Texas cities found:

  • 88% say they text message or talk on their cell phones while driving.
  • 48% say they were stopped by police during their first year of driving.
  • 33% got in an accident during their first year of driving.
  • 30% say they have driven so fast they’ve lost control of their car or have been a passenger in a car with a teen driver who lost control.

These numbers are just shockingly high. A recent AAA study in Colorado found only half of the teens text there, which is still more than the national average.

Texas has decent GDL requirements: six month permitting process, afterward only one other passenger under 21 allowed for the first six months, no night driving and no cell phone use (in effect September 1). Where they are lacking, however, is on their alcohol laws. In California, any minor caught with so much as a .01 BAC lose their license for a year, or until they are 18. Texas, however, just has a fine, community service, and at the very most, six months in jail.

What is most shocking about these numbers? Texas isn’t even one of the more dangerous places for new drivers. They came in 26th on Allstate’s recent study on the most dangerous places for teen drivers in the United States, and got good rankings on the GDL laws. Some of Texas’s cities, like Austin and Dallas scored rather poor in the survey, but still better than a lot of other states. If Texas’s teen driving deaths are right in the middle of the curve, and yes nearly 90 percent of teen drivers in Texas text while they drive, over half drink and drive, and 30 percent were in crashes in their first year of driving, what are teens doing in Mississippi or Alabama, or one of the other 25 states that were ranked as more dangerous?

Also, we need to consider that these teens know what they are doing is against the law, and probably that it is wrong. Cellphone use will be illegal among teen drivers in Texas soon, yet nearly 9 out of 10 teens admit to using their phones while driving. Speeding is illegal, yet 30 percent sped so fast that they lost control, and I’m going to wager that most of the near 50 percent that were stopped by police were done so for speeding. It looks to me like laws aren’t the answer. One quote I had in one article about one state’s GDL laws (I’ve had too many to be able to find it quickly) said that the laws were meant to encourage young drivers to be safer. That is really all they can do. It’s another layer of pressure for new drivers to do the right thing. If they know talking on the cell phone is dangerous but they still do it, maybe the fear of a ticket will keep them off the phone. In Texas, at least, this mindset doesn’t seem to be working.

How will we get through to these kids?

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Half of local road’s fatalities were 18 or younger

Posted by lapearce on June 12, 2009

Memorial for Ryan Case on Live Oak Canyon Rd. He was 18 when he over corrected and struck a tree.

Memorial for Ryan Case, 18, on Live Oak Canyon Rd. He over corrected and struck a tree.

I’m a car nut. I’m very active on a large BMW forum where the average member is an 18 year old male, per our demographics. Recently, a thread titled “post your crashes” brought something very illuminating to light:

A lot of these teen boys crash on canyon roads (or twisties). Here are some of the explanations given:

“Lost it in some twisties and went off the road into a ditch.”

“Tackling some twisties, lost it on a gravel patch, collected a CLS350 heading the opposite direction. Wrote off both cars”

“On one of the local twisties here, there is a small chicane section over a bridge that you can hit close to the top of 3rd gear. I went into the chicane at 75 mph, tapped the throttle over the bridge while transitioning right and the back end kicked out. I over correct and lodged the rear right tire right between the cement and slammed the back end into a telephone pole.”

I, like many other, weren’t shocked to hear that this 3 1/2 mile road, that has been the place of 12 deaths in the past 10, years, kills more teens than it does adults. Only two of those 12 deaths have been to people over the age of 25, and most of them have been to teens.

I have an unique point of view on this, as both a drivign instructor, and a person who grew up near this road. When I was a teen we would go down there and drive the canyon. Looking back now, we did really stupid stuff. Obviously, this past time hasn’t changed. Kids like to drive, and they like to think that they are good drivers. I thought I was God’s gift to driving when I was 16, that I was such a better driver than everyone else on the road. Man was I wrong. Luckily, I got to learn through experience, not tragedy.

Unfortunately, not as many people are as lucky as I was.

Of the 189 fatal and injury crashes that have occurred on Live Oak Canyon Road since 1999, excessive speed has been found to be the leading cause of the crash in 32 percent of the cases. Unsafe movement is believed to be the leading cause in 39 percent of the cases.But the two causes are connected and excessive speed is often what causes the driver to make an unsafe movement of the vehicle, Goodwin said. Add inexperience to the equation, and you have a driver that may overcorrect when his or her car swerves at high speeds.

“Speed leads to an unsafe lane movement,” Goodwin said. “They’re losing control of the vehicle and overcompensate.”

Residents and officials are trying to find ways now to make the road safer for drivers (i.e. make it unfun for teens to go racing through). I still live by this road, and I still like driving this road. It seems like to protect the teens they may be forced to punish the masses, however. I just wish we taught these kids they weren’t invincible so that mitigation measures like these weren’t needed.

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Rural teens twice as likey to die in crashes than city kids

Posted by lapearce on June 9, 2009

Last week Allstate released a phenomenal study that attempted to identify the most dangerous areas in the country for new drivers. In the process of their study they dispelled some myths, reinforced some facts, and shocked many people when they discovered the higher fatality rate among rural teens.

At first glance this may seem counter intuitive. City teens have to deal with far more distractions and have a lot more things to crash into than rural drivers do, and yet city teens have a fatal crash involvement rate of 25.4 per 100,000 compared to 51.5 per 100,000 for rural kids. on average The numbers vary from state to state, but everywhere they looked, teens were more likely to be killed in less populated area.

The study didn’t come to a conclusion as to why this is so, but from the information in the study a few answers come to light.

The study identified speed as the factor in the majority of deaths among teen drivers, accounting for 34.4 percent of fatalities among teens. In comparison alcohol, which parents see as a greater concern, account for 11.9 percent of fatal crashes. A trait I find in a lot of young people is that they seem to think it is ok to speed if there is no one else around. They acknowledge that this behavior is dangerous when there are other motorists, but they don’t think it is dangerous enough to avoid all together. I believe this is one of the reasons why rural areas have a higher fatality rate. There are simply more empty roads for teen drivers to test their abilities (or lack there of) on compared to crowded metropolitan areas.

Another obvious contributor to the differences between states and metropolitan areas is the level of graduated drivers license programs and seatbelt use in each state. The state with the highest fatality rate, Mississippi scored a 2 in GDL levels, and a 3 in seatbelt use while the seven safest areas all scored 4s in GDL, and the city with the lowest death rate among teens, Washington DC, scored a 4 on seatbelt use as well. Scores are on a scale of 1-4.

Comparison of Allstates fatality findings with GDL requirements by state

Comparison of Allstate's fatality findings with GDL requirements by state

The safest states for new drivers are:

  1. Washington DC
  2. New York
  3. Massachusetts
  4. New Jersey
  5. Road Island
  6. Connecticut
  7. Hawaii
  8. New Hampshire
  9. California
  10. Washington

The first thing that jumps out at me about the top ten is that most of these states have very dense population and stellar public transportation systems. DC and New York have a smaller percentage of teens driving than rural states that are far more dangerous. Fewer teens driving = fewer teens dieing.

Another shocking result from this study was that death rates increase with age, peaking at 19 before decreasing once again. It had been acknowledged for years that 16 was the most dangerous year for new drivers, but Allstate’s study showed that 19-year-olds are involved in 28.38 percent of fatal collisions among teen drivers compared to 19.47 percent for 16-year-olds. Are they driving more? Is it the fact that GDLs typically start wearing off after 16 giving teens more freedom? Allstate doesn’t explain, but it is interesting information regardless.

So what is the take away of this study?

  • Speed kills
  • Seat belts save
  • Graduated drivers licenses make an impact
  • New drivers become more dangerous before becoming less dangerous
  • States with good public transportation (i.e. fewer teen drivers) have fewer teen driving deaths

Aside from moving into the city, what can you do to give your rural driver a better chance?

  • Discuss risks on the road with your teen and make sure there are consequences if they are irresponsible
  • Mandate seatbelt use
  • If your state has poor GDL laws enforce your own
  • Consider installing a GPS unit or other monitor on your child’s car to ensure that they are not speeding
  • Take away the keys if you feel it is necessary

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“What were you thinking!?” They weren’t

Posted by lapearce on June 9, 2009

We’ve all been there. A teen does something irrational, risky, or just plain stupid and we yell “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!?” What we get back in response is a blank stare, an “I don’t know” or a shrug. Infuriating, right? Well guess what mom and dad, they weren’t thinking.

Research on human brain development shows that the part of the brain that correctly evaluates risk doesn’t develop in females until around 23 and males until about 26. Why else would boys jump off ramps on dirt bikes? Because they don’t know that it is dangerous. In Steve Wickham’s research he found:

“The “higher road” of thinking is not well developed in adolescents so why do we expect them to reason, and analyse details well? They simply do not perceive and handle risks well. Careful, mature and sensitive supervision is critical.”

Wickham goes on to say that without supervision teens will often times take part in risky behavior, even if they realize it may not be the right choice:

Teens are often frustrated when required to make decisions based on odds or risk, and tend to do “things” anyway. Adolescents require quality, close supervision and mentoring for specialized tasks. If this is not forthcoming, they will have accidents and injuries.

This isn’t new news, but it is still important news for anyone who is struggling to teach a young driver how to be safe on the road. Simply telling them “don’t speed” doesn’t work, because they don’t correlate speed with risky behavior. Teen boys, especially, are more likely to engage in risky behavior while driving. For example, teen boys are the least likely to be able to navigate a sweeping turn than any other age group or girls who are the same age. They can’t properly identify the risk in these corners and often times take them too fast. This lack of ability to correctly evaluate risk and modify behavior for risk takes the lives of many young drivers.

Recently, Mark Motley and Zach Raffety, 18 and 17 respectively, were killed in my area attempting this exact maneuver. From the skid marks and the force of the impact it is obvious that Motley took the corner way too fast. When I explained to my father which turn the crash happened on this local road we frequent  he replied, “It happened there? How? That’s such an easy corner.” The corner is easy because it isn’t tight, it was just a gentle sweeping bend, but that means that it can be taken at a higher rate of speed, which means it can be very, very dangerous.

But how could Motley know that what he was doing was risky when he was eight years away from developing the ability to judge what risky is? It is hard to hold him responsible for the crash on a mental level because of this lack of brain development. He may have been physically responsible for the crash, but mentally, he simply didn’t understand that he was taking a risk.

So what is the solution to this problem? Obviously we can’t hold licenses until people are in their mid twenties, that’s not an economically viable solution. There are a few ways to try to overcome the mental shortcomings of new drivers.

  • First: monitor your new driver. The research shows that parental involvement, restrictions and monitoring reduce crashes. So talk to them about all of this, let them know what risky behavior is and why it is risky. Restrict night driving and driving with friends, as these two things greatly add to crashes and set up a parent teen driving agreement so there is no gray area about the rules.
  • Second: enroll your child in a car control clinic. These classes will allow your teen driver to learn through first hand experience why risky behavior is risky. Skid pad exercises, handing exercises, and exercises that utilize distractions all are very powerful in sucking the ego out of a new driver and revealing risks that they didn’t know existed.
  • Third: ask yourself if your child is mature enough to drive. If you don’t feel like your teen is ready to drive then don’t let them. They may hate you for it, but each year a driver waits to get their license, the more their chances of crashing decreases and the more their chances of surviving increase. This is directly related to mental development and maturity. You may be seen as the worst person in the world by your child if you tell them they can’t get their license, but when they have the maturity to look back on their teen years and see the stupid stuff they did, they’ll probably thank you.

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Defensive driving class reduces crashes 63%

Posted by lapearce on June 6, 2009

Teen driver learns car control

Teen driver learns car control

Those of us who teach defensive driving to teens know that the classes save lives and prevent crashes, but so many of the organizations doing research on teen driving focus so much on the effectiveness of graduated driving licenses, that they typically ignore the effectiveness of defensive driving/car control classes.

The benefits of classes over laws, in my opinion, is they don’t take years to be put into place, they don’t rely on enforcement, and you can never take education away from a person.

The Meridian Police Department of Mississippi has seven years of experience teaching defensive driving and car care to teens. The week-long courses are limited to 20 students and focus on teaching teens how to avoid emergencies on the road, as well as basic car care.

Since the course has started, the police department has seen a sixtythree percent reduction in crashes among teen drivers.

For comparison, graduated driver’s licenses reduce crashes by nineteen percent.

These classes work better than laws. There need to be more programs like this available to more teens, this is the best way to save lives!

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