SCHOOL BEAT

Teen drivers

by CHARLIE BROWN
Director of Security
Rockford Public Schools

“Your son or daughter has been killed in a car accident.” These are words that will change your life forever (“The Problem”). If you want the cold hard truth, look no further. Did you know that about 3,500 teens die per year in car crashes and tons of thousands are injured? That’s the equivalent of an airplane full of teens crashing every other week. If you aren’t careful, you too could become a statistic. Learn more about the major dangers for teens:

• driving at night

• speeding and street racing

• distractions

• not wearing a seatbelt

• driving under the influence

The single biggest risk factor is driving at night. In 2009, 61 percent of teen crash deaths occurred between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. As reported by a 2010 study by Texas Transportation Institute, this is primarily due to a combination of the visibility challenges caused by dark conditions, slower response time brought about by fatigue, and a lack of experience driving under such conditions. It is largely for these reasons that most states include a nighttime driving restriction in Graduated Driver License (GDL) laws. In most states with a GDL law, the nighttime restriction and a limit on the number of passengers allowed are the most widely implemented features of that law.

The problem of visibility: The average person’s field of vision is smaller without the aid of light, and glare from oncoming headlights can further limit the ability to see clearly and avoid hazards. High Intensity lights are becoming more common. These lights are brighter than oncoming headlights and can further limit the ability to see. The National Safety Council says that dusk is the most dangerous time, since your eyes constantly have to adjust to more darkness. If an oncoming vehicle’s lights are too high, avoid glare by watching the right edge of the road and using it as a steering guide. During my career with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, it seemed many drunk drivers failed to dim their lights—beware!

The problem of drowsy driving: Being awake for 20 hours has the same affect as being legally drunk! Research suggests that teens should have 9 to 10 hours of sleep each night, but teens, on average, get only 7.4 hours per night. Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep. Avoid alcohol and medications that might cause drowsiness.

After spending 15 years in a Kent County Sheriff’s e-unit, trust me when I tell you that speed kills.

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