LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
Southern Maryland has recently felt the excruciating pain of multiple young people dying in vehicle crashes. It's not bad kids doing bad things, but many times it's good kids making bad choices and paying a heavy price. Young people view their driver's license as a ticket to freedom and are not always properly equipped to handle the responsibility of driving freedom. Parents also feel a sense of freedom from their role as a chauffer and are quick to give their teenagers the green light to drive. It's great to be able to drive until we are slapped in the face by the number one cause of death for young people, vehicle crashes.
I recently read a news article quoting a father whose son died in a crash one year ago. The father said "It feels like I've had a belly full of razor blades since the crash." We are just swallowing candy coated razor blades when we casually hand our children a set of car keys. A component of the brain called the dorsal-lateral prefrontal cortex is responsible for calculating risk. This component is not fully developed until the approximate age of 25. When we combine a novice skill level with an under developed perception of risk young driver crashes become a common occurrence. Accepting a certain level of risk is necessary to function. But are we doing enough for our young people.
Statistical data supports the fact that the most dangerous activity teens will ever do is drive or ride in a motor vehicle. The National Safety Council's "Injury Facts 2007 Edition" identifies drivers under the age of 24 as 13% of all licensed drivers. That same age group accounts for 28% of all vehicle crashes and 24% of all fatal motor vehicle crashes. Crash risks are particularly high during the first year a teenager is allowed to drive. Poor decision making skills, inexperience and environmental factors are the leading risk factors for young drivers. Driving is a skill that takes time to master.
If you are a concerned parent and want to take special precautions to keep your children safe, then you should assess your readiness to assist your teen in the "learning to drive" process. Are you confident in your ability to help your teen? What are the major hazards young drivers face? Do you know what the graduated driver's license is? Does the state of Maryland require Driver's Education or have any restrictions on driving with other teen passengers? Do you know about practice hours and a log book? What happens if a teen gets a ticket? Do you follow safe driving practices? You are the parent and role model. Developing a safe young driver is going to take knowledge and some work. Five years of the Iraq war has not taken as many young lives as one year on our roadways.
There have been many approaches to the issue of young people being killed on our roads and highways. It has ranged from different forms of education to the Graduated Drivers License (GDL) program being passed in most states including the state of Maryland. In comparing traditional approaches to educating young drivers and using all available research we believe we have found one of the most effective educational tools to impact young drivers, The Alive at 25 Program.
The Alive at 25 Program is a Defensive Driving Course developed by the National Safety Council. The program has been successfully implemented in Colorado and the results have been astounding. In 2005, Colorado's young driver fatality rate dropped 50%. In a recent study by the Colorado State Patrol, 93% of Alive at 25 participants said they would change their driving behaviors.
Community Traffic Safety Plan Coordinators, judges, private businesses and educational institutions are offering support to the Chesapeake Region Safety Council in bringing Alive at 25 to Southern Maryland. The Chesapeake Region Safety Council is a non-profit, independent regional chapter of the National Safety Council. The Council's mission is to educate and influence people to prevent accidental injury and death. Alive at 25 will help in preventing young driver crashes. Help us make a difference in protecting our young drivers. Look for the programs in your community. Call 410-298-4770 or email me at dave (at) chesapeakesc.org .
Keep it safe!
Dave Madaras, President
Chesapeake Region Safety Council