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FOR RELEASE: May 23, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Teen Driver Safety Encouraged

With the onset of summer, more teens will be taking to the road. Although there has been much progress in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on roads and highways, traffic crashes remain a leading cause of premature death and the leading cause of injury death in Oklahoma, said officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Teen drivers have the highest crash risk of any age group. Immaturity, inexperience, and risk-taking behavior (including speeding, not using seat belts, and alcohol consumption) are all contributing factors for fatal crashes among teenagers.

Oklahoma data from 1999 to 2000 revealed that 36,166 teenaged drivers, ages 16 to 18, were involved in motor vehicle crashes. There were 81 fatalities among drivers in this age group.

Teenagers often think of a driver’s license as a ticket to freedom, said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie M. Beitsch. “It’s also an important occasion for parents, as well,” he said. “Although parents are aware of the high crash rates among 16-year-olds, they’re relieved not to have to chauffeur their children around anymore. But the price can be steep.”

Driver education programs were thought to be an excellent tool for reducing the number of crashes among teenaged drivers; however, studies have shown that driver education programs resulted in more licensed drivers and higher fatal crash involvement of 16- to 17-year-old drivers. In response to this problem, researchers developed a licensing system that would allow young drivers more time to learn the complex skills needed to operate a vehicle. This system, called graduated driver licensing, imposes restrictions on new drivers that are systematically lifted as the driver gains experience.

Graduated driver licensing typically includes three stages of licensure: a minimum supervised learner’s period, an intermediate license limiting unsupervised driving in high-risk situations, and a full-fledged driver’s license. As of January 2000, 24 states had implemented the three-stage graduated license system.

Beitsch said evaluations of graduated driver licensing systems have shown a 25 percent reduction in traffic crashes among 16-year-old drivers. Studies also show a 23 percent reduction in traffic injuries and a 57 percent reduction in fatalities among teenagers 15 to 17 years of age.

Currently in Oklahoma, teenagers who are 15 ½ years of age may obtain a driver’s permit. Restrictions for first time drivers vary depending on completion of driver's education. Teenagers who complete a driver’s education program must be accompanied by a 21-year-old licensed driver, riding in the front seat at all times and may apply for full licensure within six months. Teenagers who do not complete a driver’s education program have additional restrictions and cannot apply for full licensure until they are 17 years of age if they receive a traffic violation.

Beitsch said parents can implement their own form of graduated licensing with restrictions and privileges based on the graduated licensing model.

  • Set time restrictions for beginning teenaged drivers. Define the hours for daytime driving and restrict night driving. Outings late at night tend to be recreational. In these circumstances, even teenagers who usually follow all the rules can be easily distracted or encouraged to take risks.
  • Define the number of passengers allowed in the vehicle for beginning drivers. Teen passengers in a vehicle can distract a beginning driver and lead to greater risk-taking. Set restrictions in accordance with daytime and nighttime driving restrictions.
  • Supervise practice driving. Parents can take an active role in helping their teenagers learn how to drive. Plan a series of practice sessions in a wide variety of situations, including driving in heavy traffic and night driving. Supervised practice should be spread over at least six months and continue even after a teenager graduates to the next phase.
  • Require seat belt use at all times. Don’t assume that because your 16-year-old uses a seat belt when you’re in the vehicle, that he or she will use it when driving with friends.
  • Prohibit driving after drinking. Make it clear that it is illegal and highly dangerous to drive after drinking alcohol or using any other drug. Even small amounts of alcohol are impairing for teens.

Beitsch reminded parents that they are role models and can set a good example for new drivers. “New drivers learn a lot by example. Many motor vehicle crash deaths and injuries among all age groups can be prevented by using seat belts and not drinking and driving.”

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