Last week, I was driving with my 14-year-old son and his 15-year-old friend in the car. My son criticized me for not turning left out of parking lot when, according to he-who-has-never-driven, I had “plenty of time” to do so. His friend, who recently got his learner’s permit, piped up and said, “Driving is not as easy as it looks.” You can say that again, friend.
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. That’s why states no longer grant unrestricted driver’s licenses to teens once they turn 16, as they did when I was a kid. Instead, states grant driving privileges to teenagers under 18 only after they have been driving under a permit with supervision for a lengthy period of time, and, even then, only by degrees. Driver’s licenses issued to such teens typically restrict nighttime driving and/or the number of minors who may be present in the vehicle for some period of time after initial licensure. While many people readily accept the notion that teens are safer during the graduated licensing period–either because they aren’t driving unsupervised at night, because they don’t have a gaggle of friends in the car, or because they aren’t driving at all given the hassle associated with becoming licensed–they wonder whether the effects vanish once the teens are on their own.
Fifteen-year-old Laura Yost died on September 23 from injuries she sustained after the teenage driver of the car she was riding in turned left in front of an oncoming dump truck. A few days later, fifteen-year-old Braden Rock died after his 17-year-old sister turned left in front of an oncoming car. The next morning, 11–year-old Michael Burgess was walking across the street to board his school bus when he was struck by a car driven by a 16-year-old and seriously injured. Many have questioned in the wake of these events how such injuries might be prevented in the future.
Some have raised concerns about the legislature’s decision last session to eliminate state funding for local driver’s education programs beginning with the 2015-16 fiscal year. Yet all of the teenager drivers involved in these accidents successfully completed driver’s education, and it obviously did not inoculate them from negligent driving. Perhaps more such accidents would occur if there were no formalized driver’s education training. Unfortunately, despite the millions spent on driver’s education programs in North Carolina every year for decades, the simple truth is that we have no idea whether driver’s education has any effect on teen driving safety.
Fifteen years ago, the General Assembly enacted S.L. 1997-16, implementing graduated driver’s licenses requirements for people under the age of 18, who are termed provisional licensees. Pursuant to G.S. 20-11, driving privileges are granted to minors on a limited basis and are expanded as a provisional licensee meets additional requirements. The process is designed to … Read more