Is Your Youngster Ready for a Driver’s License?
YOUNGSTERS often cannot wait to get a driver’s license. It may be one of their chief ambitions. And more and more young people today are realizing their ambition.
In 1972 there were 12,200,000 licensed teen-age drivers in the United States. Of these, 4,255,000 were under eighteen. That means that more than one driver in every ten is a teenager, and nearly four out of every one hundred drivers are seventeen years old or younger.
Perhaps your teen-age son or daughter has a driver’s license, or may want one. But is the youngster really prepared for the responsibility that comes with driving an automobile? Consider why that is such an important question.
In just four countries—the United States, France, Germany and Japan—over 100,000 persons are killed in traffic accidents each year, and more than six and a half million are injured. The dead, if laid head to toe, would stretch about 115 miles! And the injured would reach some 7,000 miles—over a quarter of the way around the earth!
Yes, more drivers are having accidents than ever before. ‘But what,’ you may ask, ‘has this to do with my youngster being ready for a driver’s license?’ A great deal.
Youth’s Driving Record
Youngsters are chiefly responsible for the growing slaughter on the roads. Last summer’s Journal of American Insurance explained: “The increase in accident rates can be traced to the upsurge in young drivers.” It added:
“Several years’ experience has shown that the under 25 driver—particularly the male in his late teens and early twenties—has more than twice as many accidents as drivers in older age groups, averaging 40 involvements per 100 drivers for each year.”
Just think: Two out of every five young drivers will have an automobile accident this year! Pointing to the particularly poor driving record of young males, Dr. Stanley H. Schuman, member of a research team of doctors and scientists, said: “Although young male drivers amount to only one-eighth of all registered drivers, they are responsible for a third of all fatal accidents.”
Proportionately, just how many more young people does this mean are dying on the roads? Traffic Safety, a National Safety Council publication, answers:
“The National Transportation Safety Board has released an accident prevention study showing that thousands more 15-to-24-year-old drivers are dying on American highways each year than their proportional share of all drivers. . . .
“Among 17,700 young fatalities in 1969, there were 7,400 more youthful driver deaths than would have occurred if their fatality rate had been the same as that of drivers 25 and older, the safety board found. This 7,400 ‘excess loss’ was greater by one-third than the combined 1969 fatality total in aviation, marine, railroad, pipeline and grade crossing accidents. The disproportionate loss involves ‘predominantly the young male,’ the board said.”
The loss of young life in traffic accidents is tragic. Just consider: In 1966, near the height of the Vietnam war, 12,200 young male drivers were killed—more than double the number of United States servicemen killed in Vietnam that year!
It would be bad enough if young drivers were only killing themselves, but they are killing others as well. Passengers riding with them, occupants of other cars and pedestrians are all dying by the thousands each year, struck down by youngsters behind the wheel of an automobile. Could your youngster also be a serious threat to the life and safety of others?
Only a Minority Responsible?
Perhaps you feel that only a small minority of young people are responsible for this horrendous slaughter. Is this true? Do a few give a bad reputation to the rest?
Well, consider these statistics: About 40 out of every 100 drivers under the age of twenty-five are involved in auto accidents each year. That is not a small minority. Thus, as soon as a teen-ager is added as a family car driver, insurance rates may jump a great deal.
But why are young drivers involved in so many accidents?
Reasons for Poor Record
Lack of driving experience is the principal reason, according to most driver-education specialists. In an effort to provide needed experience, a driving-education course is offered by over 80 percent of the high schools in the United States.
However, perhaps an even more important reason for youth’s poor driving record is the very nature of young people. They are prone to be exuberant and thoughtless, to lack judgment and to dare and be dared. Stating the matter bluntly, driving authority Paul W. Kearney wrote of young drivers: “Their judgment is juvenile—and their highway sportsmanship is on a par with that of a couple of infants fighting for a rattle in a crib!”
Behind the wheel of an automobile such youthful traits often prove disastrous. Thus on his first night out alone with a car, a seventeen-year-old high school football star ran down a mother and child in a crosswalk in a jackrabbit start. The boy’s athletic coach offered this explanation:
“If they had asked me, I could have told them that Harvey wasn’t ready emotionally to drive. He has a bad temper in the locker room and needles other players. He is a flashy performer and carries a chip on his shoulder. His mental attitude showed itself in his driving as soon as he was unsupervised. The boy just had to be first away when that light turned green.”
It seems true, as Dr. Mathew Ross, a psychiatry instructor, noted: “The auto is almost an extension of our personality and the way we drive sums us up perfectly.” Therefore the fact should not be ignored: A youth usually has the personality traits characteristic of a youth, traits that often contribute to auto accidents.
Parents need to recognize this fact, and seriously consider: Is my youngster really ready for a driver’s license? Otherwise, are they not at least partially responsible when their youngsters become involved in traffic accidents that cause deaths and injuries?
‘But what am I to do?’ you may ask. ‘Should I refuse my child a driver’s license?’
That is a decision you will have to make. Many think it is the best answer, and recommend that laws be passed forbidding young people from driving. But others believe there are better answers, much fairer to youths. They argue that raising the driving age will not lessen the number of beginners on the road who lack driving experience. And it is this lack of experience that is considered a major cause of auto accidents, regardless of the age at which one starts learning to drive.
So perhaps it is your decision to allow your child to learn to drive while he is quite young. Do not conclude, however, that you have fulfilled your responsibility by simply having him take the driver’s education course at school. These are generally inadequate. In fact, studies in Mississippi and in California show a higher accident rate among school-trained teen-agers than among other teen-age drivers! Why do school programs fail?
Basically, it is felt, because they do not give the young driver practical experience. Only a little time is spent actually driving, and this at slow speeds on lightly traveled streets. Few, if any, emergency situations are faced. “Because of this,” a spokesman for a large auto insurer explained, “young drivers are not ready to face many emergency situations such as blowouts and skids. Too often the youthful driver’s first experience with an emergency situation is the real thing, and too often he will never get a second chance.”
For this reason Dr. Amos E. Neyhart, the man who set up the first high-school driving course in 1933, says: “At least 12 hours should be spent by each student behind the wheel. The student driver must be given simulation experience in skidding, brake failure, tire blowouts, running off the road, and so on. We’ve been teaching manipulative skills but not enough accident-prevention skills.”
So, as a parent, you should see that your youngster receives adequate driving experience. Let him practice while you are with him. Give him practical experience at turnpike speeds. Also, it is wise to teach him to handle skids, estimated to be a major contributing factor in one of every four fatal auto accidents. Perhaps you can find a large, unoccupied, iced-over parking lot and obtain permission to use it to practice skidding and countersteering. Reading about skid control will never educate as well as will experiencing the real thing.
Nor does your responsibility end with simply seeing that your youngster can expertly handle a car, even in emergency situations. Inculcating a proper mental attitude is equally important, if not even more so.
Instilling a Sober, Mature Attitude
Your youngster may be a teen-ager, but when he is behind the wheel of a car it is essential that he be a stable person who values life and property. It is your responsibility to see that he is. Endeavor to develop in him courtesy, respect for law, carefulness and consideration for the rights of others.
A vital way of doing so is by providing a good example in the way you drive. Emphasizing the importance of this, Dr. Bruno Bettelheim, a noted psychoanalyst, said: “Even if a parent breaks a traffic law only occasionally, it may be enough to destroy a child’s belief that he should obey all rules at all times. An occasional speeding violation by a parent, or impatient cheating at the stoplight, makes a youngster imagine that to be ‘grown up’ means one can break the law and get away with it.”
It is vital, too, to teach your youngster to think while he drives, always to be analyzing the traffic situation. One parent makes a kind of game out of this, explaining:
“My son . . . sits beside me in the front seat of the car, looks ahead, and picks out possible dangers. For example, there is a line of parked cars ahead with a driver seated at the wheel of one car. What should the driver of our car do if the other driver pulls out suddenly or opens his car door on the wrong side? There’s a hidden driveway where a car may come out unexpectedly. How do we prepare to meet this emergency? Up ahead is a blind curve. How do we proceed?”
Some may think that young people have such quick reflexes that they can, at the last moment, take accident-preventing action. But the fact is, being able to get one’s foot to the brake a fraction of a second faster than the next person is much less important in avoiding accidents than driving carefully enough so that such activity is unnecessary.
Yet another way to impress upon your youngster the importance of safe driving is to allow him to see and hear firsthand what happens to traffic violators. If you get in touch with the local court, the judge may be glad to have you come down to listen. He may even arrange to hear a series of cases that will be especially instructive and impressive for teen-agers.
Also effective is to have youths visit the emergency ward of a hospital and watch traffic-accident cases as they are brought in. This can certainly make a lasting impression that emphasizes the importance of safe driving! By inquiring and explaining the reason for it, you may receive permission to visit such an emergency ward.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of your youngster is dependent, to a surprising degree, upon your proper supervision of his use of the car. You simply cannot close your eyes to the danger when he is behind the wheel. It is real! So do all you can to make your youngster a safe driver. His life, and that of others, may depend on it.