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Reducing Roadway Fatalities and Crashes of Younger Drivers in Arkansas

Posted on Monday, March 10, 2014    

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, car crashes are the number one killer of teenagers but the death rate is much higher for 16 year olds. In fact, it is about twice as high for 16 year olds as it is for those who are 18 to 19 years of age.

Per mile driven, the crash rate for teenage drivers is four times higher than the crash rate for adults. It is higher at night, higher when there are other teenagers in the car, but even higher right after teens get their license.

Crash rates are really low during the learner permit stage when teens are driving with adults. That is a very safe way for teens to drive but when teens start driving alone, crash rates start to skyrocket.

Teens are inexperienced drivers, more likely to speed, make more driving errors, take corners too fast, follow too closely, and are not able to handle situations that come up for the first time. Teen drivers minimize driving risks and overestimate their ability.

Driver education classes are a good way to develop skills. However, parents should not totally rely on them because many crashes are caused by a young driver’s attitude, rather than poor driving skills (that are addressed by driver education teachers).

My youngest daughter recently turned 16. The statistics recited above are a sober reminder of the dangers involved when young people start driving. Another tragic reminder was just last summer when Ariana Balsara, a friend of my oldest daughter Elizabeth, was killed in a single-vehicle accident in Pulaski County. Ariana was a wonderful young lady and would have graduated Northside High School this May. In November, Ariana’s friends had a “Race to Remember” to “celebrate an outstanding girl who made an incredible impact on our community and with our help, she still is today!” As a personal injury trial lawyer, we often see such tragedies after the fact. When we get involved, there is very little that can be done to make our youngsters safer on our highways and to help reduce the driver fatalities. I often ask myself “why do I do what I do.” Through the years, I’ve come to understand that my primary purpose as a trial lawyer is to help make our world a safer place.

So what can we do to decrease roadway fatalities for our teens and younger drivers? I believe the answer lies in education. Recently, the details of a new program, “Toward Zero Deaths (TZD), was announced in Arkansas. The goal of this new statewide campaign is to “shrink the 500 roadway fatalities each year in Arkansas to zero.”

One of the primary emphasis areas is to reduce roadway fatalities and crashes for younger drivers (ages 15 to 20). Approximately 10 percent of all roadway fatalities in Arkansas involved a younger driver in 2010, down from 18 percent in 2006. The decrease is attributed to the Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) law passed in Arkansas in 2009.

A report from a study published the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is freely available for download by clicking here.

What are GDL laws and its requirements? The Arkansas Graduated Driver Licensing is a system for phasing in on-road driving, allowing beginners to get their initial experience under conditions that involve lower risk and introducing them in stages to more complex driving situations. To learn more about Arkansas Graduated Driving Licensing, go to GraduatedDriverLicensing.com and also check out Ark. Code Ann. § 27-16-804. You can also take time to watch the Young Drivers video here.

Bottom Line: The Arkansas Graduated Driver’s program needs to be discussed at dinner tables around the state with our young folks and not handed off to a Driver Education teacher in our local high school. Sharing our experiences about distracted driving, aggressive driving, and impaired driving with our youngsters and placing restrictions on when a newer driver is allowed to drive, and with whom he or she is allowed to drive, is the responsibility of parents.