Op-Ed

Help make teens better drivers

I thank Tom Eblen for his columns about teen driving. He has shed some light on a very serious issue that's killing teenagers in Kentucky. I want to reiterate some facts about teen driving:

■ Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens.

■ Each year, more than 5,000 teens ages 16 to 20 are killed in passenger vehicle crashes.

■ During 2006, a teen died in a traffic crash an average of once every hour on weekends and nearly once every two hours during the week.

■ In 2006, 127 Kentucky teenagers were killed in motor vehicle crashes.

■ About 6 percent of Kentucky drivers are teenagers, but they account for 13 percent of all collisions and 10 percent of all fatal collisions.

■ Most high schools in Kentucky no longer teach driver's education.

What is being done to reduce the number of teenagers being killed on Kentucky's roadways?

■ Kentucky has a primary seat-belt law.

■ We have improved the Graduated Drivers Licensing Program.

■ Driver improvement courses are being offered, such as the Street Survival program that will be offered at the University of Kentucky Commonwealth Stadium on Aug. 2. The only problem is that it's limited to 30 students and is being offered only once. The cost is $60. More hands-on training is needed.

■ The Kentucky Department of Transportation Safety offers many programs to students, such as ”Ghost Out“ and ”Mock Crash.“

■ The National Safety Council offers a free, four-hour defensive driving course called ”Alive at 25.“ This program is sponsored by Toyota Motor Manufacturing and is available to all high school students who have their permits or driver's licenses. This interactive program, offered in a classroom format, encourages young drivers to take responsibility for their driving behavior. ”Alive at 25“ uses interactive media segments, group discussions, role-playing and short lectures to help young drivers develop strategies that will keep them safer on the road.

What else can be done to reduce the number of teen deaths?

■ Parents need to become positive role models when they are behind the wheel and to set their own driving guidelines at home. Parents must talk to their teens about wearing seat belts, forbid drinking and driving, restrict the number of passengers, restrict nighttime driving, discuss speeding, the dangers of using electronic devices while driving and other driver distractions.

■ Enforce the primary seat-belt law.

■ Evaluate the Graduated Drivers Licensing Program for its effectiveness and to determine whether additional enhancements are needed.

■ Evaluate the effectiveness of the way we test new drivers. The current 20- to 30-minute road test doesn't include any interstate driving.

■ Ban young drivers from using cell phones and all electronic devices while driving. I fear that ”driving while texting“ will become as much a problem as driving while intoxicated. A generation has grown up with cell phones and texting as the norm. This problem will get worse unless something is done.

Inexperience is a primary reason that teens are killed in car crashes. Driving is a complex task that takes many hours of practice to master. Teens need to practice driving in rain, snow, ice, fog, at night and in congested areas. Sometimes a teen's first experience driving in adverse conditions is when they first get their license and have passengers in the vehicle with them.

If 127 teenagers being killed on our roadways is 127 too many, we need to do more to prevent these needless deaths.

Parents have the primary responsibility in preparing teens for the road, but more can be done through legislation, education and enforcement.

Please get involved and make the roads safer for our teens and for all who share the roads with them.

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