Archive for Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Too young to take the wheel?

Parents, officials mull raising age limit

Driver's education instructor Jon Brown gets ready to head out with another student from Free State High School. Brown has been teaching kids how to drive for 27 years.

Driver's education instructor Jon Brown gets ready to head out with another student from Free State High School. Brown has been teaching kids how to drive for 27 years.

June 11, 2008


Driving instructor offers insight to job

Oskaloosa resident Jon Brown, a longtime driver's education instructor, describes his job and the areas in Kansas where he has taught. Enlarge video

A driver's education ride along

With only three hours of driving experience, Nick Haley, 15, of Lawrence, takes us along for a ride during his driver's education class. His driving instructor is Jon Brown of Oskaloosa, who said Nick was showing "real improvement." Enlarge video

On the street

What do you remember about learning how to drive?

I grew up in a rural community and learned to drive when I was about 10 years old in one of our pastures.

More responses

Baring a tin grin, Nick Haley, 15, adjusted the mirror and grabbed the wheel with both hands. He slowly pressed down on the gas pedal, but the car wasn't moving.

Oops, he forgot to shift the car into drive.

Welcome to another summer of driver's education classes at Free State High School.

As these teenagers - about 250 of them - prepare to hit the road, there's debate nationally and locally about exactly when and how they should learn to drive.

While Nick said he is old enough to start driving, his mother, Joanie Haley, isn't so sure.

"It's too young to be driving at 14 and 15," she said. "When I grew up in California, you couldn't get a license until you were 16."

She's not alone. According to a Kansas Teen Driver Research and Education Project survey, virtually all Kansas parents believe teens should be at least 16 to drive without restrictions and 50 percent supported an age limit of 17 or 18.

Organizations such as Kansas Action for Children and AAA Kansas want to raise the age limits, too. That's because motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, teen drivers account for only 6 percent of Kansas' registered drivers but 20 percent of crashes.

Last year in Douglas County, 353 accidents involved teen drivers ages 14-17. Of those, 91 resulted in injuries and 262 caused property damage. Teen drivers cost the state $467 million annually in medical expenses, lost work, property damage and other related costs.

To put a dent in such numbers, Kansas Action for Children, AAA Kansas and KDOT have been lobbying state legislators to adopt a graduated driver's license policy that would increase age limits and implement restrictions on nighttime driving, teenage passengers and use of wireless devices during the learning phase.

'Lagging behind'

Kansas is one of only four states that has not adopted such a policy - a policy that has reduced teen crashes by up to 20 percent in other states, according to AAA Kansas.

"Some people will say that we do have a graduated licensing system because we have a learner's permit, restricted and then the full license, but when you look at the definition of a true graduated driving license system, we are really lagging behind other states," said Suzanne Wikle, director of health policy for Kansas Action for Children. "Our car driver's licensing system is not up to date with the best practices that are out there."

In 2007 and 2008, the Senate passed a bill that would have implemented such a system, but it failed to garner support in the House.

Rep. Gary Hayzlett, R-Lakin, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he conducted a survey of his southwest Kansas district and found that 70 percent of the constituents didn't want to change the laws. Many said they were just getting used to the law - imposed about 10 years ago - that required teens to have 50 hours of supervised driving before obtaining an unrestricted license. At least 10 of those hours have to be at night.

"The one that we are operating under was supposed to be the cure-all - supervised training, nighttime training and this and that. Now, that's not enough," he said.

But Ron Gaches, a lobbyist for AAA Kansas, said the state didn't know then what it knows today.

"When we passed the current teen driving law, we didn't have this overwhelming evidence that shows us that late-night driving and driving with lots of passengers causes so many more accidents, but now it is just absolutely irrefutable," he said.

Proponent for change

Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, doesn't need statistics to convince him. He has seen it firsthand as a longtime car dealer and father of three.

"Every one of my children had an accident when they were young," he said.

Donovan said his eldest son is lucky to be alive after rear-ending a vehicle at about 90 mph on the day that he got his car.

"It was a horrible accident, and we were just lucky by the grace of God that nobody was killed, but they could have been," he said.

There were two other boys in the car with him. Donovan said he took his son's car away and didn't return it until he was 17. His son didn't argue a bit.

"Every year of additional training and driving and experience makes that driver a safer driver, and that's what a graduated driver's license tries to do," he said. "It saves lives. It's too bad that we have to think about that before we can implement it."

'Mixed emotions'

While some lawmakers aren't convinced laws need to be changed, a new survey released Tuesday by AAA Kansas found that 65 percent of Kansas teens supported a graduated license system.

Rachel Saladin and Tracy Stowe, both 16, can be counted among them. The Lawrence teens support an increase in the age limit and imposing restrictions on wireless devices, nighttime driving and passengers, especially because they know classmates and friends who have been in car accidents. Rachel knew one teen who had been in three accidents during the past couple of months.

Kole Buck, 15, doesn't see a need to change the law, however, and said it depends on each individual.

"It's how kids choose to use the privilege," he said.

KyAnne Hall, 14, added that carpooling not only could help pay for gas but also limit the number of teen drivers on the road. She said some teens work after 9 p.m. - a time restriction that AAA Kansas would like to see implemented - and thought driving would be safer than walking late at night.

Her mother, Deb Hall, thought the restrictions were a good idea, but wasn't sure if she would support raising the age limit.

"I have mixed emotions. I think at a little bit older they might be more responsible and a little better equipped, but I don't think they should raise it too much because they have to learn before they get out of high school and go to college," she said. "It's kind of a catch-22."

Kole's mother, Lisa Rothwell, also questioned raising the age limit.

"They are old enough to start working. They are old enough to go to high school, but they are not old enough to drive," she said. "It's kind of one of those double jeopardy things. We'll take you for work, but you can't drive yourself."

The AAA Kansas survey found that while most parents impose the kinds of restrictions that are at the heart of the graduated license approach, many fall short of protecting their children. They don't communicate the restrictions to their children, and they remove the restrictions too soon.

"If you have your own teenagers, take control, regardless of the law," said Jim Hanni, executive vice president of AAA Kansas. "It's practice, practice, practice. Keep drivers from driving at night when they first start out, and limit passengers and wireless devices.

"It simply saves lives."


janeyb 10 years ago

davidsmom--you freaked me out! My grandfather used to say 1 dog is a good dog, 2 dogs is half a dog and 3 dogs is no dog at all. My dad changed that to one teen a brain, 2 teens half a brain and 3 teens no brains at all. I think they should leave the learning permit at 14, but get rid of the restricted license, for urban and rural kids. They always want to give farm kids different rules. Let kids get a licence at 16, but no passengers except immediate family, 2nd cousins once removed don't count, until 18. Do you really want kids with only 1-2 years driving experience coming to Lawrence to college? I don't see KU students showing great driving maturity, and for a small city Lawrence is a tough place to drive. Most of all restrict cell phone use while driving on everyone. I have had the most close calls in Lawrence with people of all ages on their cell phones.

bugmenot 10 years ago

Did the author mean to say "tin grin" or "thin grin"? With the generally poor proofreading that goes on in newspapers today, I can't tell. I've never heard the expression tin grin.

gccs14r 10 years ago

Adopt the German standard for instruction and testing. If a license took 6 months to get and cost $1000, newly-minted drivers would be much more careful and appreciative of the privilege.

vpete69 10 years ago

Teens + cars = death machines.Teens + cars + cell phones = death machines with address books.Teens + cars + text messaging = dorks who need to get a life.

ShannonGlan 10 years ago

I agree that the driving laws for teens should be a bit more strict. While hoping that these laws will be carried out soon, I have taken measures into my own hands! I found out about a company called FindWhere that sells vehicle tracking devices. I installed an iFind2000 device into my teen driver's new car that allows me to keep tabs on her speed and location. I do not think that this is being overprotective - I think that driving is a privilege and she needs to prove that she is a responsible driver before I let her have COMPLETE freedom! I can set my device so that I get alerts when she exceeds a preset speed (I have it set at 70) and I can also receive alerts if she leaves town or enters an area that is restricted to her. I think that every parent should look into getting one of these devices for their new driver to monitor safety on the roads. If teens know that their parents can see what's going on, they are more aware of their driving habits and less likely to engage in risky driving behavior. Its atleast something to keep them safer until they pass these restriction laws.

sourpuss 10 years ago

People should LEARN to drive fairly young, but they should not just be let out on the roads. My dad started teaching me at age 12, but I never really drove a lot on my own until I was 19. Also, never buy your kid their own car. Either make them buy it themselves (they'll realize how much it costs then) or make them share your car (and incur the wrath of the parents if they wreck it) and they'll probably be more careful while driving. Give them a car when they turn 18. Oh, and if getting them to and from school is too much of an inconvenience for you, you should have thought about that before you conceived them.

vpete69 10 years ago

Cars in the hands of teens turn them from modes of transportation into killing machines.

SloMo 10 years ago

Raise the minimum driving age to 25, impose a maximum driving age (maybe 70? 80?), and fix public transportation so that it's easy to use!

Chris Golledge 10 years ago

At some point people have to be given some responsibility; people don't learn responsibility until they are given some. Driving is one of those; it is also a skill. It makes sense that those with less practice in a skill make more mistakes. Sure, the accident rate is correlated with age; younger age implies more accidents. But, how many studies have looked at accident rate compared with years of driving experience? I bet the correlation is just as good there. Age is surely still a factor, but it isn't the only factor. If you don't give a person any responsibility until they are, say, 18, they don't start learning to be responsible until they are, oh, about 18.

Confrontation 10 years ago

I grew up in an area where we were given permits at age 14. We had a few car accident deaths at our small high school, but they only happened to drivers who were 16 or older. From what I saw, the teens were much more cautious at age 14. They could only drive alone to and from school or work (yes, we all cheated there a bit). At 16 or so, the teens started to get more daring, since they had sooooo much experience by that point (sarcasm) and could drive whenever they wanted.

mr_economy 10 years ago

While I don't think moving the age up will solve much at all ( I don't believe an inexperienced 18 year old will be much better than an inexperienced 16 year old), I absolutely support many restrictions on the driving behaviors of young/new drivers.No cellphone use allowed while driving, period. Not hands free, not held by a friend, none. Study after study has shown that driving while talking is equivalent to driving drunk in terms of its impact on cognitive abilities related to driving. If we have a zero-tolerance alcohol policy for underage drivers, then there should also be a zero-tolerance cell policy.The no-friends-allowed argument is a bit more complicated. The late-night work response, in particular, is something I find persuasive. While in an ideal world, a 16 year old would not need to work after dark, some family's financial situations make this difficult to achieve. Especially when one considers the immense pressure on teens today to load their resumes with extra-curricular activities, it is immensely difficult to get by without some after-dark working. Likewise, carpooling means fewer teen drivers on the road, is better from a financial perspective ($4/gallon split between 4 people is much easier to afford), and is better for the environment.Perhaps some sort of 1- or 2- strike policy regarding those privileges? I don't know the answer, but I do think some compromise needs to be made between pre-emptively removing those privileges and doing nothing about them.

fan4kufootball 10 years ago

Kids at age 14 - 16 are phyiscally able to reach the pedals and see over the dash to the road but mentally they are so immature they should not be driving anything at all. Kansas government needs to get on the ball and pass laws that do not allow kids to drive (under no circumstances) until they are AT LEAST 16 years of age. Learners permits should only be issued at age 16 as well and I do agree with a minimum number of hours with the learners permit with an adult. Drivers education classes should also be required. We also have a huge problem with these kids driving under the influence of alcohol. We should have laws in place that if they are caught driving under the influence their license is suspended until they are 18 - no exceptions.

readit 10 years ago

"tin grin" means he has braces...

davidsmom 10 years ago

When a teen gets in a car to go somewhere, he's likely to just go and be OK. But when you put two kids in a car, they have half a brain between them. Three or more and they are totally brainless. Teen drivers should not be allowed to have any passengers who are under 18 or not immediate family. Also, while experience benefits them, experience at 14 is not as much benefit as experience at 16 because all the experience in the world can't make up for lack of maturity.

Evan Ridenour 10 years ago

"Anonymous userdweezil222 (Anonymous) says:I'd just like to point out that the elderly are nearly as likely as teenagers to drive poorly. Should we start requiring senior citizens to have license restrictions as well?"YES!!!

LawmomX3 10 years ago

If parents would allow the child to get the permit at 14 and take the time to teach the teen how to drive spending 2 years allowing the teen to drive as much as possible with the parent in the car providing guidenance you would have better drivers at 16. To often I hear parents say I don't have the patience, driver's ed can do it, etc... It is experiance, practice, practice paractice... Parents should also make rules, my daughter has been told if she doesn't have a GPA that allows the good student driver discount she has to pay the difference in car insurnace, if I catch her on the phone she looses her driving privledge, etc.. My rules not some law. Lawrence has public transportation and if she can't follow my rules and my schedule doesn't match hers she can take the bus.

dweezil222 10 years ago

I'd just like to point out that the elderly are nearly as likely as teenagers to drive poorly. Should we start requiring senior citizens to have license restrictions as well?

mr_economy 10 years ago

"So, for some reason, it's OK for adults to talk on the cell phone while driving? Given what you just said, the cell phone rule should apply to everyone."I agree with you here. But I also think from a practical perspective it would be much more difficult to drum up support for a total ban.

fletch 10 years ago

Moving the driving age up will just shift the mortality statistics up a few years. Driving is a skill and an art, and it takes time to learn and some times you learn those lessons the hard way. New drivers (regardless of whether they are 16, 18, or 21) are going to be more dangerous to themselves and others.Don't get me wrong, overall maturity does have a roll to play, but we don't have some magic indicator to tell us when a person is mature. I know of 16 year olds who are more mature than some 26 year olds. It's always going to be arbitrary. Kids will never learn to be mature and handle responsibility until adults in their lives begin trusting them with responsibilities. So I say start drivers ed early. Start teaching them at 14 and 15. Link it with school performance, community involvement, lack of a police record, etc. Show them that if they follow the rules, do well in school, and be a positive role model, adults will trust them with the responsibility of driving. On the flip side, have a zero tolerance program as well. Drop out of school, get arrested, etc and you lose your license until you're 18. Use the carrot and the stick to encourage teens to be responsible, instead of just throwing the baby out with the bathwater and denying the good kids a chance to drive.

ksdivakat 10 years ago

ShannonGlan.......I would be very interested in that product. Could you give me the website or information on where I can find them at???

compmd 10 years ago

Most high school age kids really are not mature enough to handle motor vehicles unsupervised. Did we learn nothing from the tractor chicken scene in Footloose?

salad 10 years ago

"Adopt the German standard for instruction and testing. If a license took 6 months to get and cost $1000, newly-minted drivers would be much more careful and appreciative of the privilege."And you can't even start training for you license until you're 18. All those who think there's no difference between a 15 yr. old driver and and 18 yr. old driver are retarded. It's a huge difference. Make it 18.

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