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How much do parents influence their teen driver’s safety?

Posted on Monday, February 6th, 2012

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, states that have adopted Graduated Drivers Licensing programs (GDL) have seen accident rates drop anywhere from 10 to 30 percent among teenage drivers. The GDL restrictions vary from state to state, but typically include passenger limits for new drivers as well as curfew hours in which the driver is required to be off the road. In terms of accident reduction, GDL programs have been a statistical success, but some advocates for driver safety are wondering whether even more could be done to enhance the safety of teen drivers.

Today, the New York Times published a piece asking, “Should We Increase Requirements for Teenage Drivers?” emphasizing the role parents play in instilling responsible behavior even after their child has received a license. In the article Pam Fischer, who oversees the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition, offers the statistic that, “Teenagers whose parents set rules and monitor their independent driving are half as likely to get into a crash as teenagers with no parental supervision; and they’re 71 percent less likely to drive while intoxicated and 50 percent more likely to use their seat belts.” As a result, she helped lobby for a bill that would have required parents to attend a driving safety class before their child would be eligible for a license.

The bill, which was ultimately vetoed by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, would have also upped the number of practice hours and increased the permit period before a license would be given. As Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety asserts, “Parental involvement is crucial to making graduated licensing systems work, because parents are the first line enforcers of the law.” This might be why Connecticut has seen a reduction in the number of accidents since implementing a parent safety class, similar to what was proposed in New Jersey, back in 2008.

Although some parents are irritated by what they perceive to be just one more hoop to jump through, Bill Seymour, the director of communications for Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles insists the program is working. Seymour says, “The numbers are clear — deaths are dramatically down, accidents with injuries are dramatically down.” The New York Times article adds: “State figures show that crashes in Connecticut in which 16- or 17-year-old drivers were considered a contributing factor fell by 28 percent in the two years after the rules went into effect.”

In spite of compelling evidence that stricter regulations of teen drivers can have a serious impact on reducing the number of accidents, the article barely touches on the equally important question of finding the right balance between safety and freedom. It’s not just a question of whether parents influence their teen driver’s safety, but also a question of where do you draw the line. How involved should the DMV be when it comes to emphasizing parental supervision? Are mandatory parent safety classes worth requiring as long as they show a positive correlation with reducing accidents, or is this taking things one step too far?

There might not be a clear cut answer, but as Ms. Fischer and other advocates of the bill look to reintroduce it early this year, it will be interesting to see whether similar programs begin to be considered elsewhere across the country.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uncleboatshoes/8701484/


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