Teens, Instructors Look To Improve Teenage Driving Safety

According to a recent American Automobile Association study, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States.

In 2009, the organization estimated that more than 730,000 teenagers ages 15-18 were involved in traffic crashes.

But the instructors and students of at least one local driving school are determined to buck those odds.

Despite their determination, some students at Mad Area Driving School on Madison’s West Side admitted they’re a bit nervous about the responsibility they’ll soon have at their fingertips.

“I always put on my seat belt, so the thing I’m most nervous about is car accidents,” said student Tayana Cross.

“It’s more stuff than I thought it was,” said student LaTonya Jackson. “Now I have this big book that I have to read.”

After 40 hours in the classroom and some practice time behind the wheel, students will take their drivers test.

But instructor Chad Woodward said the real work begins once the students actually get those cherished driver’s licenses.

“Getting your license is an exciting time in a teen’s life, and the first step is a classroom like this to learn the rules of the road,” said Woodward.

But Woodward also cautioned young drivers: “The basic ability to operate a motor vehicle doesn’t mean you’re a fully qualified driver. It could take years for you to get the necessary experience for you to be safe on the road.”

A recent study by AAA agrees with Woodward, as teen drivers were found to be 50 percent more likely to crash in their first month of driving.

“Things like speeding, distracted driving, and failure to yield to other vehicles are some of the very common mistakes teen drivers make in those early weeks of driving,” said Pam Moen of AAA Wisconsin.

But Moen was also quick to suggest that teenage drivers are on a fast learning curve.

“Once they have some experience, they can compensate for it very quickly and make better decisions,” said Moen.

Despite the known risks and the jitters, teens at Mad Area Driving School are already making big plans for their newfound freedom.

“I can drive anywhere I want to go,” said Tayana Cross. “Take myself to the mall, take myself to the movies, to school.”

Though some were quick to remember that, as teenagers relying on the availability of mom and dad’s car, there are limits on that freedom.

“I could just get in my car and go to the mall without asking anybody,” said LaTonya Jackson. “Well, I still have to ask, just not for a ride.”

Though these teens are still subject to the same challenges as other new teenage drivers, at least they seem committed to changing the troubling safety trends for teenage drivers.

Both driving instructors and AAA said parents should stay involved in their teens driving education even after they receive their driver?s license.

Their recommendations include riding along with them, setting rules, and limiting the number of passengers they are allowed to have in the car.

For more teen driving safety tips, visit AAA’s website.