Are you aware that Wednesday marks "Back to the Future" Day? Yep, when Doc Brown and company rocketed 30 years ahead in their Flux Capacitor-equipped DeLorean, they landed in California on Oct. 21, 2015. Too bad we didn’t get the Mattel flying skateboards (though you can buy fake ones ).
Actually, those boards look kind of unsafe — flimsy safety straps. That’s relevant, because this is also National Teen Driver Safety Week. A bunch of reports have come out to mark the occasion, and they make sobering — in more ways than one — reading. For instance, the Michelin Teen Driving Safety Survey points out the scary fact that 81 percent of drivers (18 and over) rate their own driving highly, but 66 percent say they’ve felt under threat when someone else was behind the wheel. But only 59 percent felt compelled to say something about it.
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The tribute marks a spot in Antioch, California, where five teens coming home from a party crashed their car, killing one and putting two in the hospital. (Photo: Bob Driskell/flickr)
So even if they’re distracted by texting and yakking with their buddies in the back (75 percent say they’ve “offered advice from the rear of the car"), drivers tend to trust their own superhuman abilities.
Some 73 percent of drivers say they’ve seen a bad accident, and 73 percent have been in a close call. One of the reasons I drive fairly slowly is all the bad driving I see around me. And 69 percent say they see people ignoring safe practices every day. It’s nice that 61 percent say that behavior makes them more cautious on the road, but what about the 39 percent who don’t have that reaction?
Similarly, 75 percent signal before changing lanes — but 25 percent don’t? And what about the 32 percent who don’t bother to stay in the right lane unless they’re passing.
The Governors Highway Safety Association also has a new report out called Under Their Influence: The New Teen Safe Driving Champions. It points out that crashes are still the leading cause of death among teens — yep, more than cancer, more than heart disease. In 2013, almost 4,000 15 to 20-year-olds were involved in fatal accidents. “Preliminary 2015 data suggest that overall traffic fatalities are on the rise,” the report said.
Just for adjusting the mirror, this teen driver earns points. (Photo: State Farm)
According to an Injury Prevention paper, “Teen drivers have the highest crash rate per miles driven of any age group, and among teens, the youngest teens have the worst crash rate. Crash rates are lower with each year of increasing age, but not until age 25 to 30 does the rate level off to that seen throughout most of adulthood.”
The governors report that parents are the biggest influence on teen driving behavior, but it points out that a lot of other adults — such as coaches, teachers, doctors, professional drivers and club leaders — have an influence on driving behavior, and can use it more constructively than they are now.
I agree that these folks can become safety advocates, but a lot of evidence also suggests that we’re far most influenced by our peers. For exactly that reason, you don’t want your friends projecting the idea that it’s OK to drink and drive, or adding to that sense of invulnerability.
And who influences the driving of these at-risk kids? Their friends. The IJ paper says, “The driving behavior of peers sets a norm that is an understandable influence on young drivers. Peer passengers can also influence young drivers' behavior, as seen in the negative influence of a young male passenger on male drivers, and the moderating effect of a young female passenger on drivers of both genders. In addition, the norms and expectations of a partner (girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other, or spouse) can have an important influence on driving behavior.”
Dave Ucci talks to teens about his teenager who died due to reckless driving. Since a peer was involved, the kids may be listening. (Photo: Dave Parker/Flickr)
For that reason, I doubt that Michelin’s campaign, featuring a self-righteous-looking and “concerned” Katie Couric, is going to be effective. Better ads would feature kids who’d been in accidents talking about the lessons they learned.
Driving instruction has deteriorated. When I was in high school we had rigorous — and free — sessions with our coach (who doubled as the driver’s ed guy). We got lots of seat time in all weather, and they also showed us scary movies like "Signal 30." Now, reports Craig Fitzgerald as part of the forthcoming BestRide Ultimate Guide to Winter Driving, “Most driving schools in New England—where it snows approximately 11 months of the year—cancel their driving classes if school is canceled for winter weather. How are we expecting teens to drive safely in bad weather when we don’t even teach rudimentary driving skills in winter weather?”
And don’t forget that the media and, especially, video games put fast driving on a pedestal. "Fast and Furious," anyone? When was the last time you saw an action movie without a car chase scene?
Finally, nothing changes behavior like tighter laws (including lower speed limits). In New York State, portable electronic devices have been banned (for all drivers) since 2009, and restrictions on younger drivers (including how many non-family passengers they can carry) have been increased. Supervised driving hours are now longer, too.
Hey, I don’t want to spoil the big 16-year-old driving party, but if restrictions keep even one dangerous drinking-and-driving, distracted teenager off the highways, then I’m for them.
Here's Michelin's thoughts on safe teen driving.