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When driving becomes deadly

February 25, 2008

by Kristen Miller

It’s something you don’t think could ever happen to you, especially when you are 16 and just received the privilege to drive.

Inexperienced drivers are more likely to be involved in a car accident, and if they are lucky, they survive.

After reading a recent article in the Star Tribune, “Stopping Teen Deaths,” I became aware that Minnesota tops the list as being the deadliest state in the nation for teen drivers.

The most recent figures show Minnesota has the highest percentage of fatal crashes involving teens – 18.4 percent. The US average is 14.3 percent.

Neighboring states came out 3 to 5 percentiles lower – North Dakota, 15.2 percent; Iowa, 15.1 percent; and South Dakota, 12.3 percent.

Through the article, I also became aware of a 17-year-old Princeton, Minn. girl who, in the past two years, has attended seven of her friend’s funerals – all of whom died in four car crashes.

The article questioned if laws should be tightened and/or if driver’s education curriculum should be changed or enhanced.

I think it’s a matter of both, but with adolescent rebellion, education is likely to be more effective – updated curriculum, that is.

One student in the article said upon bringing the driver’s education curriculum home, his mother remembered having the same book when she was in school.

Times have changed. If school districts can update math curriculum, they should consider it where life and death is a factor.

Adolescents preparing for their licenses and other young drivers need to understand that accidents can happen to them. They aren’t invincible, like most think.

Not only could a driver be killed, but as a passenger, they are also at risk (especially if they choose not to wear a seat belt).

Also, with most teens owning cell phones these days, using them while driving (especially texting), can be deadly. Put the phone down! Even I need to remind myself of this.

The article also highlighted some state’s restrictions for young drivers including:

• a minimum age of 16 years for receiving a learner’s permit, and 17 for a full license. In Minnesota, it’s 15 for a permit, 16 for a full license.

• requiring a certificate of more than 30 hours of supervised driving practice.

• nighttime driving restrictions.

• allowing no more than one passenger in the vehicle.

• requiring all occupants to wear safety belts (I thought this was the law already).

• laws restricting cell phone use by drivers who hold only an instructional or learner’s permit, forbidding using any form of wireless communications device while driving (Minnesota is one of 14 other states enforcing this law).

Laws and curriculum will undoubtedly have an impact, but let’s face it – kids will be kids.

They are rebellious and reckless, and at times, stupid. No laws or curriculum can change the teenage mind – but if it can save a few lives, it’s worth a shot.

Note: Dassel-Cokato’s driver’s education curriculum is reviewed every seven years, according to Brooks Helget, driver’s ed instructor. The current book was just updated in 2006. Prior to that, in 1998, he said.