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home : opinions : opinions August 20, 2014

2/17/2012 10:00:00 PM
Editorial: Parents must set better example for teen drivers

Losing even one teenage driver in a traffic crash is one too many.

Discouraging - but not yet alarming - statistics that the Governors Highway Safety Association released this week tell us that incidents of teen traffic deaths have increased slightly, reversing a trend that had actually gone down in the 16- to 17-year-old age group for eight years in a row.

Deaths of 16-year-old drivers rose from 80 to 93 or 16 percent, and the number for 17-year-olds went from 110 to 118, a cumulative increase of 11 percent. These are national statistics for the first half of 2011.

Arizona fared better than most states. In the first six months of 2010, Arizona had only one death in this age group, but two in the same period in 2011. Overall, the state-by-state increases in teen vehicle deaths are small, but Florida, Texas and North Carolina saw significant increases.

Experts surmise that the rise in teen fatalities may be because economic conditions across the country are improving, so more teenagers are able to drive, thereby exposing them to greater risk.

"While it is not a surprise that these numbers are stabilizing or slightly increasing, states should not accept these deaths as something that cannot be prevented," said Dr. Allan Williams, a researcher who completed the report. "More work can and should be done to save teen lives," he said.

Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, called for more federal support to save teens from deaths in car crashes. She would like Congress to provide financial incentives to states that have strengthened their teen driving laws and to those that will. And she wants federal money to help her organization research and demonstrate effective ways to convince teen drivers to use seatbelts and to make them aware of the dangers of distracted driving.

While Harsha's recommendations may have merit, they gives rise to a critical question.

Where do the parents or guardians fit in to this? Shouldn't it be their responsibility to instill in their teen drivers the life-saving necessity to be responsible drivers?

All the money in the world won't save teenage drivers if they ride with parents who speed, talk on cellphones, put on makeup and otherwise court danger.

Before we throw more money into research to save teenagers' lives, let's start with their parents.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, February 20, 2012
Article comment by: Thanks but No thanks

Last week it was "lock 'em up til they die." This week it's "save the children." Why, so you can lock more of 'em up? Are you actually suggesting that I look to you, with your lock 'em up til they die mentality, for child-rearing advice? Thanks but no thanks.

Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012
Article comment by: Coyote Contraire™

Tom Steele reminds us of the nasty reality of a very bad decade -- The Flameout Fifties:

The mindless materialism and blindly-gullible Cold War society of the '50s did a lot to encourage teen mal-behavior and suicidal propensity (I came very close to it myself). Our nutso quasi-puritannical adult "role models" managed, inadvertently, to promote reckless use of alcohol and incautious (pre-birth control) sex -- which led to frequent horrendous car crashes and truly life-wrecking pregnancies, abortion being utterly shameful criminal behavior in those days.

(By 1960, the annual highway death toll was pushing 37,000 in a country of 181 million people -- only around 58% of our current population (310 mil) which chalks up a current death toll of only about 33,000. Much more dangerous time on the U.S. highways, back then. Crazy time.)

From the ed. piece: That 'graph saying, "Experts SURMISE that the rise in teem fatalities [is because of economic recovery]..." is a great contender for hoot of the month. Of course those experts will remain forever unnamed, undiscovered. Nothing more suspicious in the media than the always anonymous "experts" and "officials". It's identical to the "they say" of casual conversation -- the ever-creditied mysterious entity credited with a zillion unsubstantiated claims. "They say Hitler hated broccoli even more than G. Bush #1 OR J. Edgar Hoover." We'll never know.

(I've always wanted to be quoted as an anonymous expert or official, though I'd settle for "The Coyote sez...", even if it would destroy all credibility of the coming wild-guess blather.)

Fortunately, some of our country's youth reacted to that ten-year insanity by creating the theretofore unknown social and spiritual leap known as The Sixties -- a decade dedicated to a more humane perception of life and a determination to improve values and behavior -- aided by the wonders of psychedelic chemicals and their ability to enable vision beyond the mundane, but never mind that part. (Lost you with that one, huh?)

It's nearly impossible to say enough harsh things about the 1950s. The only cool things about the whole time were Rock n' Roll and the '55 - '57 Chevys. The rest of it just plain sucked.

The Korean "Police Action" (now referred to as a war) blew false wind and everybody knew it but kept the lie afloat -- nurturing a fabricated commie-fear monster that didn't crash until we out-spent the Great Soviet Doofus (which it certainly was) by '89.

While many look upon the '60s with disdain, often even with fear, many others who lived it see it as a far more idyllic time -- a time when love and brotherhood and sisterhood actually became prevalent, were practiced daily -- a time when freedom was embraced afresh and honest[l]y began to glow as a given of individual responsibility. Of course all of that freaked out the parents, the government, the ruling class -- but in the end it had a lasting effect on the rest of the century and even now.

While we that were young in the '60s didn't turn out to be quite the hinge of history we were hoping to be, we did have a notable hand in ending the murderous fiasco of 'Nam and in helping to secure a bit more equality for women and racial minorities.

And we managed to get the benign but helpful hemp plant legalized too, didn't we? ... oh... well... that was a battle lost, so far.

People will never drive well until they're trained to -- an un-American concept that seems to have eluded our anon ed. and anybody else thinking parents can, or ever have, set a good 'zample of driving skills or rationality for the kids.

(Why don't we ever hear about insurance companies suing the government? Could it be because they ARE the government?)

Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012
Article comment by: Hey, I Know

Since the DARE program and MATForce have been so wildly successful at keeping kids safe from evil, illegal drugs, why not adopt their strategies? Armed with guns and vicious dogs, simply scream repeatedly in the little darlings' faces: "Don't ever get in a car!!!! If you get in a car you'll die!!!!" Then spend another million or so putting signs on school buses with clever sayings about bugs driving cars.

Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012
Article comment by: How Funny

And not one word, or even a passing nod, at studies indicating a decrease in traffic deaths in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Increased marijuana use = decreased alcohol use = safer highways for everyone.

Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Steele

I lost three of my classmates within one year of high school. Two were suicides and one speeding into a large tree that took two lives. This was in 1956. There is no "fix" available for young people learning how to deal with life and its disappointments.

Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2012
Article comment by: What are the stats for over 65 drivers?

Just this morning watched as grandpa got behind the wheel of his oversized motorhome and with his little dog on his lap, backed out into traffic without seeing an on coming car, then proceeded on his way using both lanes of traffic. Yes, the thousands upon thousands of young people who survive driving each day can learn from how older drivers.

Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2012
Article comment by: Honey, the Kids are Watching

I absolutely agree!! Children emulate their parents and the other adults in their lives.

Just the other day, a teenager told me one parent's driving habits were alarmingly careless, but critique from anyone was not permitted.

Though my driving record is clean and I endeavor to drive safely, I am more than capable of making mistakes and do. So I invite passengers to warn me of impending danger, because it's possible I may not be aware of it otherwise. I also ask them to tell me if they spot me doing anything illegal or unsafe. More than once, such input has been helpful to me.

One benefit to the children and teenagers I ferry around is they're more aware of what's happening with my driving and on the road, and they're learning traffic law in the process.

I'll even add my own mini-driving lessons as we travel along, "Oh, that person must not realize that passing in a school zone means you shouldn't overtake another vehicle, even if you both remain in your respective lanes."

I was humbled the other day when a teen asked me to teach her how to drive. She said she'd noticed I routinely use my turn signal, don't speed and am a "safe driver".

Again, there are no perfect drivers and I'm certainly not claiming a lofty status in that regard. What I am saying is setting a good example by adhering to the law, and inviting the children in your life to scrutinize your own driving, are avenues toward improved skills now and later.

Hopefully, the statistical change referenced in this editorial is not a harbinger of even more teenage traffic deaths going forward.

Let's do all we can to turn these stats around, never underestimating the influence our own behavior has on the kids who are watching us even when they're not permitted to speak.

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