Georgia teens fail driving dangers test

Justin Stoltzfus

A March 2011 survey of teen drivers in Georgia shows that many teens might not be aware of the hazards they face on the road. A Texas-based group with chapters in various states is hoping that its unique program can help.
Teens in the Driver Seat, an advocacy program run by the Texas Transportation Institute, gave Georgia teens a pop quiz on driving risks. According to Teens in the Driver Seat, the top five risks teens face on the road are nighttime driving, distracted driving, speeding, neglecting to wear a seat belt and alcohol consumption. Fewer than one in five of the teens who took the quiz could name more than three of these risks. The survey also found:

  • Only 3 percent of teens surveyed said they were aware of the heightened risk of driving at night, and 25 percent said they drive late at night.
  • More than half of the teens who filled out the survey admitted they had ridden without seat belts. Only 9 percent understood the critical difference that seat belts make in an accident.
  • When it comes to cellphones, Georgia teens seemed to know the score. Nearly 75 percent knew that texting and talking on the phone while driving is dangerous. But nearly 20 percent acknowledged doing so anyway.

Although Insurance Institute for Highway Safety numbers indicate that teen crash rates have declined by about 60 percent since the 1970s, there is still much work to be done, according to Teens in the Driver Seat. Crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens, and the group estimates that 50,000 teens in Georgia are involved in traffic accidents annually. According to Teens in the Driver Seat, its program will be the one to reverse those trends because it relies on peer pressure to get the job done. Teens might tune out adults. But Teens in the Driver Seat lets teens determine which issues are taught in its workshops and allows them to share their stories -- and the lessons they've learned the hard way.

Teens in the Driver Seat is not alone in its concerns. Auto insurance companies assign higher rates to teens, given the risks they pose. In addition to inexperience, teens face peer pressure to show off, distractions from other teens, an addiction to technology and problems related to alcohol use, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And until they experience consequences (or see their peers face consequences), teens may see no reason to change their behavior. Many teens may not have had the experience of being stopped and fined for seat belt violations, for example, and may not have the same tendency to buckle up as older and more experienced drivers.

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