Teen driving

          Jay Radman knew his 16-year-old daughter, Amanda, as level headed and trust worthy. He believed she drove responsibly, even when he wasn't along for the ride. She wore her seatbelt and knew the rules, but Radman's perception met reality when Amanda, on her way to pick up a friend, ran a stop sign, smacked into a car and died.

     While today's parents are willing to concede their kids aren't always cautious drivers, they're no longer as eager to hand over the keys without oversight. Radman told news reporters that when his two younger sons reached driving age, he would take advantage of new technology to keep tabs on their behavior behind the wheel.

     Spurred by worried parents like Radman and chilling statistics — car crashes are the leading cause of disabilities and spinal cord injuries in young people, and an average of 122 teenagers perish in car crashes every seven days — companies and individuals have come up with ways to monitor teen driving. Law enforcement does a good job of working with kids to help them understand the dangers of impaired, careless and reckless driving, but I'm not sure that's enough.

     We need to take the crusade to higher levels. One way is to get behind some of the new technology and point out things that lessen the risk.

  • Event Data Recorders (EDRs): These "black boxes" document speeding, jack rabbit starts, sudden stops and some come equipped with alarms that sound when a car hits a certain speed threshold. Competing brands install differently, but many can be plugged directly into the vehicle's existing computerized system.
  • Global Positioning Systems: A GPS can track a teen driver's whereabouts, without the reporting and safety features offered by EDRs. The parent can visually pinpoint the vehicle's location from another computer in real time.
  • Cameras: Pilot programs, like the one launched by a Wisconsin insurance company, supplied car-mounted cameras attached to a car's rearview mirror and recorded erratic driving. The photo is then e-mailed to the parent.
  • The Right Car Choice: Teens may pine for sporty little convertibles or flashy SUVs, but there's a good reason why so many police departments put their officers in Ford Crown Victorias or similar heavy cars. Parents shopping for a car should consider safety equipment, crash ratings and weight when picking a car.
  • Behavior Modification: Behavior can't be changed overnight, but it is possible to arrest reckless tendencies before they turn into habits through courses, newsletters and videos. Several programs address driving behavior, ranging from a 4-hour course offered by The National Safety Council to a driver's safety course that can be administered by parents.
  • Driver's Education: Many states have adopted graduated driver's licenses, which require beginners to first take a course in driver's education, then progress through a series of steps before receiving full driving privileges. Private driving courses also augment driver's education curriculum in schools. We need to endorse such ventures and legislation.

     As a writer, mother of two teens and former officer, I stay on top of teen culture and issues. There is little I find more frightening than the idea of a teenager behind the wheel of a car. When our daughter started driving, we purchased an event data recorder, or "black box," and installed it in her car. She hates it, but we're convinced it makes a difference. As for the car, I am appalled by how many parents simply find the cheapest ride for their child. Why would anyone put their most precious possession in an old rattletrap without seatbelts? If money's an issue, then maybe your kid should wait to get his license.

     Any officer who has responded to a fatal accident involving teen drivers knows even the best kids make dumb mistakes behind the wheel. Be proactive, save lives.

     A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at carolemoore@ec.rr.com.

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