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Teen drivers: The statistics are stacked against them


IF THERE'S one thing all adult drivers - no matter what their age - agree on, it's that teen drivers are a menace.

And there's a statistical basis for that view. Almost 7 percent of the 190 million licensed drivers on the road are teen-agers. While they represent about 10 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 14 percent of all motor vehicle-related deaths. Crash risk is particularly high during the first years teen-agers are eligible to drive.

We aren't surprised. Teens drive too fast, they always seem to be yapping with their friends or worrying about the radio, they race through neighborhood streets and they tailgate so closely that we're in danger of becoming hood ornaments. In fact, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, teens are more likely to be charged with moving violations, including speeding and reckless driving, than other drivers.

But Marcy Kolodrubetz of Clarksville relates a story about when her nephew was learning to drive that illustrates how we all can push the limits of the law when something we must do is at hand. "Deciding how far to go outside the letter of the law is a judgment that we hope improves with age," says Kolodrubetz.

"He is a fairly reasonable, responsible 16-year-old boy - the son of a policeman, out with another boy, who was also the son of a policeman. They were a little late leaving where they were to get home on time. He comes upon a school bus unloading children with flashing red lights. He stops, sees kids getting out and crossing in front of the bus to get to the other side of the street. After a while, no one else seems to be coming out, and the bus is just sitting there.

"My nephew then decides to pass the bus on the right-hand shoulder to get around the bus and get home on time. The bus driver took down the license plate number and contacted the police, who had an easy time finding the car and driver.

"No one was hurt, but it shows the lack of full thought processes sometimes. The shifting significance of priorities and immediate decisions that must be made constantly while driving are what scare me most about having a future teen driver in the family," says Kolodrubetz, whose eldest child is 12.

According to Howard County native and former Glenelg High School student Ryan Buckholtz, 22, many teen-agers are just as concerned about this issue as we are. Buckholtz runs a Web site providing safety tips and a forum for teen drivers.

"We hear from girls and guys about driving issues. A lot of teens are very concerned about being safe drivers and have had friends involved in accidents," says Buckholtz, who started the Web site seven years ago.

"He had his learner's license and was studying to get his driver's license," says Eileen Buckholtz, his mother, about that time. "The site went live in December 1994. Our older son had been involved in a number of accidents, and we were looking for a project to motivate Ryan to be a better driver."

Ryan Buckholtz says, "We want to have a place teens can get good driving information without being preachy." Check www.teen driving.com to see what teen-age drivers have to say to other new drivers, and some generally good advice - no matter how long you've been behind the wheel.

One aid for parents is the "How Is My Teen Driving?" program, which is sponsored by For the Children.

When you register, your vehicle and driver information is entered into a database. An individually numbered decal is provided for display on your vehicle. If another driver observes your teen-ager driving in a reckless manner or displaying poor driving habits, he or she can call the toll-free number displayed on the decal and report it. Parents are notified within 24 hours of the report.

Information: www.howismy teendriving.net; or For The Children, 504-431-5702;P.O. Box 244, Metairie, La. 70004-0244.

What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison @us.net. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or fax 410-715-2816.

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