By NORA TURNER
Driving is a world of new freedoms and possibilities for teens, but learning to drive can be a dangerous and complicated situation that cannot be navigated alone.
Involving parents and guardians, as well as the community, in the process of learning to drive is critical to a successful learning experience and making Conn. roads safer in a new age of drivers.
This shift in attitude is due to the fact that teen driving today looks very different from what it did 10 years ago. After a series of high profile crashes involving teens in 2007, the state of Conn. passed the Graduated Driving Licensing laws that made significant changes to the way teens can obtain their license.
These GDL laws include an 11 p.m. curfew, an older permitting age and specific rules about who teen drivers can have in their vehicles.
The GDL laws have been fairly successful; the Conn. Dept. of Motor Vehicles released a report in May 2015 that cited there was only one death among 16- and 17-year-old drivers in 2014. But, a study completed by the Conn. Children’s Medical Center in the same year found that, “GDL systems have been uniformly but only partially effective — in the 20-40 percent range — at reducing the incidence of teen car crashes.”
Convictions for breaking the law on the road can be one of the most effective ways to teach teens a lesson about safe driving practices, which is the best way to prevent crashes, according to the DMV report. While the numbers of convictions for 16- and 17- year-olds has steadily decreased since 2008, a report completed by the Hartford Courant said, “the reason for the drop in convictions is multifaceted… and a lack of enforcement may be partly responsible.”
There are a variety of reasons police officer can choose not to convict a teen driver, including how it can be time consuming and potentially create tense community relationships. Bill Seymour, the Conn. DMV Director of Communication said that enforcement of GDL law starts at home because parents and guardians have the opportunity to take away teens’ privileges, and should be paying great attention to their teens’ driving practices.
The CCMC study also cited that the best way GDL laws can be effective is awareness through parents and supervising adults. Conn. is actually one in only three regions in the United States that has a mandatory two-hour joint parent-teen information session for any 16- or 17-year-old getting their license.
An issue that is arising now is that two hours is not adequate time for parents to become fully aware of all the nitty-gritty rules of the GDL. In separate study performed by the CCMC, ten different parent information sessions in Conn. driving schools were observed.
After the two-hour classes, the CCMC noted there was a positive interaction with these instructors, but topics that were not well covered included nighttime driving, the risks of teenage driving, finances involved, brain development and enforcement of the GDL law.
“The police can’t be everywhere and they have a lot of different responsibilities and one of the realities is that it’s as much up to parents to enforce these laws as it is the police, maybe even more so. The parents are the ones… who should know where their kids are most of the day. That’s one of the key messages of the two hour class,” said Tim Hollister, author of the book, “Not So Fast” which was inspired by the premature death of his teenage son, Reid, in a car accident in 2006.
There are a variety of ways parents can become more informed about keeping their children safe. A parent driving manual is available on the Conn. DMV website and includes descriptive and in-depth insight to how properly train a teen for the road.
If parents are looking for something more interactive, they can download “Road Mentor,” an app that was developed by the CCMC Injury Prevention Center with support from the Conn. Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA). This app gives parents an all-access look into their teens learning process and the 12 months after they receive their license.
CT Parent Driving Manual: http://www.ct.gov/dmv/lib/dmv/20/29/Howto.pdf
Road Mentor App Download Site: http://www.connecticutchildrens.org/community-child-health/injury-prevention-center/community-outreach/road-mentor/
Nora Turner is a senior at Bunnell High School, Stratford.