Beware young drivers 

Almost every day that you read the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette or watch TV news, you learn that someone in the state has been killed in a car or a truck accident. From January 1 to July 12 this year, 360 persons have died in 320 car and truck crashes. The number of deaths goes up every year. From January to July 12 last year, 312 persons died in 349 collisions. Many of those who died were very young people.

The cause of many of the deaths, according to the State Police, is that Arkansans drive too close to the car ahead of them. But I and a lot of people I know believe that a major reason is that too many Arkansans refuse to use seat belts. They don’t because they don’t have to, and that is a shame.

Arkansas is one of the 24 states where drivers can be arrested for not using a seat belt only if they have made some other driving violation. It’s interesting to learn that a driver not using a belt can be fined in every state that touches Arkansas except for Missouri. Nearly every other Southern state has a law that requires drivers to use seat belts.

Last week, George Chakiris, an administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the Arkansas Highway Commission that only 68 percent of Arkansas drivers were using a seat belt, whereas 82 percent of drivers was the average of all of the states in the country. Chakiris said the state would get more money for highways from Washington if the state made its seat-belt law tougher.

Fortunately, the six commissioners decided that they would draft a resolution to tighten the seat-belt law and ask the legislature to pass it when it meets in January.

That certainly will help. However, most of us over 30 would quickly say that the real problem is that kids are driving too young. I never get on the highways — especially the interstate — without some youngster weaving around me at 70 or 80 miles an hour.

In Arkansas, you know, a child of 14 can get a license so long as he or she drives only with an adult with them in the car. That, of course, is a joke. Any 14-year-old smart enough to get a license will soon figure out a way to have their 14-year-old buddies riding in the car, not adults. Next to a car, today’s young people want a cell phone so that they can call their friends while they are driving their car. Driving a car and talking on the phone at the same time is very difficult and often leads to a collision.

Now like almost everyone, my wife and I let our three children start driving when they were 16; licenses weren’t given to 14-year-olds then, or if they were, I was grateful that our kids never heard about it. Back then, most of the high schools were offering classes in drivers education, but only 128 of the 311 school districts are offering that today. The high schools in Little Rock and North Little Rock are among those that no long offer drivers education. That is really unfortunate.

Look at these figures: The number of licensed drivers 20 and younger in 2002 accounted for 6.4 percent (12.5 million) of the nation’s licensed drivers (194.3 million), a number that increases every year... In 2003, 15-to-20-year-old drivers accounted for 7,884 crashes that killed people, 13 percent more than were involved in such wrecks in 1993... Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people 15 to 20 years old....There were 3,657 15-to-20-year-old drivers killed in automobile wrecks in 2003.

It seems to me that the Arkansas Highway Commission ought to go to the legislature and ask for more new laws besides just forcing youngsters (and maybe all drivers) to use a seat belt.

Here are my other suggestions: (1) No more licenses for 14-year-old kids; (2) kids should get a ticket if found driving and talking on a telephone at the same time, and (3) the only 16-year-old who can get a license must have been trained and able to pass a thorough driver’s test.

If you like some or all of those suggestions, you might want to talk to your state legislators about them.



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