New website warns teens of driving dangers
by Jennifer Cohron
Aug 15, 2010 | 2255 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Teen drivers are more likely than other age groups to be in an accident because of distractions such as texting while driving. (Photo by: Jennifer Cohron)
Teen drivers are more likely than other age groups to be in an accident because of distractions such as texting while driving. (Photo by: Jennifer Cohron)
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For teenagers who believe they are invincible behind the wheel, Alabama has a new website to prove them wrong.

The Alabama Child Death Review System (ACDRS) reports that car accidents account for about half of all preventable deaths for people under 18 in the state each year.

Statistics show that drivers between age 16 and 19 are twice as likely to crash as those 20-24; three times as likely as those 25-29; and more than four times as likely as those 30-69.

Two years ago, a nationwide study found that Alabama has the second highest rate of teen driver fatalities per capita in the nation.

Scott Ware, a driver's education instructor at Walker High School, said he suspects that Alabama's many rural roads may have something to do with the high ranking.

"To me, it's harder to drive on a rural road because you're going to be more alert when you're around other cars in the city. When teenagers are on the road alone, they tend to drive too fast and not pay attention," Ware said.

ACDRS, a program of the Alabama Department of Public Health, recently began a safety campaign to educate new drivers and their parents about several factors that contribute to crashes.

The campaign's website, www.adph.org/teendriving, lists use of alcohol, not wearing a seat belt and distractions as three primary influences.

Teen drivers are more likely to be affected by alcohol than adults and less likely to wear seat belts, according to the site.

Distractions for teen drivers include other passengers in the car, texting or talking on cell phones, eating or drinking, adjusting the radio or listening to music too loudly.

Other factors are speeding, aggressive driving, driving at night and being underage.

Ware said he usually doesn't get to witness his students' bad driving habits in class.

"When I have the kids with me, I'd ride all the way to Florida and back with them. They do everything the right way. Then you see their parents somewhere and they ask, 'How did my child pass driver's ed?'" Ware said.

Ware said after teenagers get some experience as drivers, they become more concerned with image then safety. They slouch instead of sitting up straight and don't want to keep both hands on the wheel.

Ware added that the purpose of his class is not to teach teenagers to drive but rather to show them how to be safe and effective drivers.

He tries to stress the responsibility that comes with operating a car to his students. In class, he refers to an automobile as "a 3,000-pound bullet."

"At any moment, you could lose your life or you could kill somebody else with just a tiny mistake," Ware said.

Ware shows several videos in class to show his students what can happen if they aren't cautious drivers. However, he knows a lecture won't always get the job done.

"There's just that teenage mentality of 'It's not going to happen to me,'" Ware said.

That's why he also asks students who already have their license if driving is as important as most teenagers make it out to be. Most will admit that it's more of a burden than a benefit.

Vicki Lyle, a health sciences teacher at Walker, talks about dangerous driving behaviors with her students as well.

She is also planning to take 20 sophomores, juniors and seniors to a youth leadership program at Hewitt-Trussville High School in September. The students will be learning about texting while driving, bullying and childhood obesity.

"It will give them a lot of ideas about how to spread the word about these destructive behaviors with other students," Lyle said.

An online brochure titled "Surviving Teen Driving" and more safety information is available at www.adph.org/teendriving.