Drunk driving — Why do we trust teenagers with a license?

Is anyone surprised by the results of a recent survey that showed nearly a quarter of teenage drivers admitting they have been behind the wheel while high on something — alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs, to name a few substances?

Drunken Driving Signs

OK, I’ll admit to being surprised by the part of the survey that found almost 1-in-5 of them saying they actually thought drinking alcohol improved their driving, and by the 34 percent who said marijuana made them better behind the wheel.

I mean, it’s well known that teenagers have an inflated sense of their own invulnerability and even harbor fantasies of immortality. Also, studies have shown that the human brain is not fully developed until the 20s, on average, and that teenagers tend to lack mature judgment skills.

But you’ve got to be traveling on a pretty big boat down the river called denial to think the word “impaired” is a synonym to “enhanced.”

The survey was published by the group known as SADD, for Students Against Destructive Decisions, and Liberty Mutual insurance. It canvassed 1,708 11th and 12th graders nationwide and has a margin of error of only 2.2 percent. Its release was meant to coincide with prom and graduation season, a time when a lot of kids party.

However, the survey found that the worst time for teenage impaired driving is during unsupervised events, such as parties during the summer months, away from structured school activities.

I could suggest that reports like these are evidence states ought to reconsider letting teenagers acquire driver licenses. But that has become such a part of the culture, and it’s so important to early employment experiences and skill development that it isn’t realistic.

So instead I’m going to suggest that states take driving instruction more seriously.

True, many states have imposed what are known as graduated driver licenses. Typically, these are structured so that, at 16, you get a limited license that forbids you from driving with anyone else other than a responsible adult in the car. With a clean record, the restrictions are lifted, either at 16½ or 17.

Those laws are good, but I still worry about the level of instruction provided to new drivers in many states.

I’ve been through this with four of my own children so far. Other than some athletic coach who supervised them as they drove around a high school driver’s ed track, I was the sum total of their expert instruction (with some help from a reluctant wife, who would rather delegate this part of parenting). I have had to impart the wisdom of the ages to someone who may or may not pay attention to another lesson from Dad.

And while I may have had confidence in my own child, it was sobering to know that every other kid that age was going through the same sort of training from a parent or other relative with varying techniques, teaching abilities and levels of trust with the child being taught.

Some countries require hours of professional instruction before someone can earn a license. Should states in this country do the same?

As I wrote three years ago, Statistics merely confirm the obvious. Between ages 16 and 19, you are about four times more likely to wreck a car than are older drivers. And yet, driving is a necessity in most U.S. cities and towns.

The video below is a news report about the victim of a drunk driving accident. It’s typical of the many similar videos you can find on YouTube.

Sure, it would cost more to provide new drivers with more intense training, which, I assume, would include more effective education about the dangers of impaired driving.

Given the stakes involved, wouldn’t that be worth it?

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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