Underage Driving: Hazards And Statistics
Underage driving could be a bigger problem than you expect. According to the Louisiana State Highway Safety Administration, the only time statistics are accounted for on underage drivers is when there is an accident that causes personal property damage, injury, and/or fatalities. Since the law doesn’t expect a 7- or a 13-year-old to be behind the wheel of a vehicle, they don’t bother to check for these things unless there is a reason.
And recently, there were two boys in Louisiana who fell under the radar. Names were withheld to protect the children, but cellphone video of a 7-year-old driving while being cheered on by two adults made the web. That followed on the heels of a truck-and-bus crash wherein a 13-year-old was responsible.
In the latter incident, more than a dozen people were injured. In my own life growing up, I remember a female student at the junior high where I went snuck out of the house one night, while in the eighth grade, and wrecked her parents’ car, killing a mother and her young son in the process.
Clearly, underage driving is no laughing matter, but some people don’t get that message.
In the case of the 7-year-old mentioned above, Jewel Carney of the New Orleans Safe Driving School sounded off in comments to WDSU: “A child that age really has not mastered the skill to ride a bicycle safely, let alone drive an automobile. … At that age, the mindset is, ‘If I can get from this point to that point I’m OK. They are not concerned about following any laws because they don’t know any laws.”
That’s where parents play a major role, not just in protecting their young ones, but also in protecting the general public.
Here are some statistics from 2012 and 2013 that the state of Louisiana collected on underage driving:
In 2013, drivers under the age of 14 caused two fatalities in-state during an 11-month period. Both drivers were boys under the age of 14, and that fatality number was down from four deaths in 2012.
Injury-wise, there were 134 accidents in which people were harmed by drivers under the age of 14. In those incidents, 105 were boy drivers and 29 were girl drivers. This was down from 171 injury crashes in 2012, but again, these numbers do not adequately describe the risk. They are simply what authorities know about based on recorded accidents. Every underage driver is a threat, and there could be many more of them as the 7-year-old mentioned above would not have been caught if WDSU hadn’t tracked down the home where the child lived.
As for what specifically makes underage drivers a hazard to the road, here are some of the most common safety risks.
Accessibility with pedal controls. Many children are either not tall enough, or their height presents a problem with adequately working the pedals and responding to other traffic.
Visibility concerns. Many children cannot see over the wheel.
Slow response time and lack of knowledge regarding the rules of the road. Things happen very quickly, there is more traffic than years past, cars are faster, and it takes an experienced driver to anticipate what other drivers will do. That’s experience that an underage driver simply does not have.
According to Louisiana’s HSA, the youngest a child should be behind the wheel is about 15, but that comes with the huge stipulation that it should only be with the supervision of an adult. If an accident causes personal property damage or injury or, God forbid, fatalities, it will be the child’s parent who is ultimately responsible. While said parent may have insurance coverage, limits may not be enough to cover against damages, and the parent runs the risk of becoming uninsurable for such a failure in supervision.
Underage driving can deeply and negatively impact yourself and others. In a split second, you can alter the course of numerous lives, including that of your child. It’s a parent’s job to be vigilant and educate their children to the dangers of underage driving. Only by teaching responsible behavior now can you ensure that your young ones are ready for the road when they reach the legal age.