I know a 17-year-old driver, a good kid but typical of his age, who was clocked three months ago coming home from Nauset Regional High school in North Eastham at 82-miles-an hour. Two weeks later on a Saturday night, he was rounding a blind corner at about10 pm in a secluded neighborhood—radio at ear-piercing tilt—and sideswiped a parked car, demolishing the right front end of his Toyota.
I know him because he’s my son.
When I first learned of the accident, the questions raced through my mind at warp speed: Was alcohol involved? Was anyone hurt? The answer to both, this time, was no. But I don’t want there to be second time.
Rear-ended by an alarming and often tragic rash of traffic accidents involving teenage drivers, state lawmakers have pledged to radically revise state driving statutes that apply to teenagers, raising the legal driving age a full year to 17 years and six months. House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi told the Boston Globe last week he hoped to have the legislation on the governor’s desk by mid summer. If approved, the rewrite would be among the most restrictive in the nation.
Although it won’t have an immediate effect on my son (his general grounding and loss of wheels has), such legislation is essential, and should be enthusiastically embraced on Beacon Hill, considered on both sides of the aisle as one of the most critical bills before the House and Senate. Critics of the proposal insist that raising the driving age will not address the problem, opting instead for stricter enforcement of existing laws. But the sad statistics of poor teenage driving screech out like brakes jammed on a highway.
According to highway safety associations, teenage drivers account for only seven percent of all drivers, and yet are involved in more than 14 percent of all fatal crashes—the primary cause of death and injury to teenagers 15 to 19. The carnage is measured in the thousands; close to 6,000 teenagers a year in this country die in fatal crashes, most of them occurring between 9 pm and midnight.
Contributing factors include: lack of driving experience, poor driving skills, distractions, risk taking, bad judgment, driving at excessive speeds and, the most disquieting of all, alcohol and drug use.
Young, immature drivers often assume they are indestructible, and drive as they do in the fantasy video games of their obsession. Encouraging a 16-year-old to draw the line between the real and imagined is like getting an infant to take its first step. They wobble and fall until they get it right.
All the more reason to extend the age for teenage driving. What do we lose by it? Well, parents may have to shuttle their kids around for another year. What do we gain. Maybe a score of lives!
It’s a savings that can hit close to home.