Reducing teen fatalities

Published 2:10 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Public health researchers have produced a national study that makes sense: It says that states that require teenagers to meet a number of conditions before granting them a full license can reduce the number of fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds by up to 21 percent.

The issue is relevant in Mississippi, where the recent Kids Count survey ranked the state 44th in the number of teenage deaths, at 89 per 100,000 children. Nationally, car crashes are the single largest reason for teen deaths, and that is probably true in Mississippi, too.

Locally, Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-Magnolia, is among a number of residents advocating stricter licensing procedures for young people. Butler’s bill to lengthen the amount of time it takes for a teen to get full driving privileges has passed the Senate in the last two years, but has died in the House each time, reportedly because a committee chairman opposes the idea.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The study, performed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, reported that states that set more restrictions on young drivers have greater success at reducing the risk of fatal teenage crashes.

Researchers got their figures by comparing fatality numbers of states with some or all of seven driving restrictions to those that lack them. The restrictions include commonsense laws like making kids wait till they’re age 15-1/2 before they can get a learner’s permit, age 17 for full licensing, nighttime driving restraints and limits on carrying passengers.

States that have five of the seven restrictions showed an 18 percent reduction in fatal crashes involving teenagers; those with six or more of them cut the rate by 21 percent.

Assuming Mississippi’s teenage driving laws do not change, one other thing can be done in an attempt to reduce the state’s high teen mortality rate. Parents, who ultimately decide when to allow their children to start driving, ought to set their own timeline. The fatality statistics indicate more of us ought to make our kids wait a little longer to drive on their own.

Just because a 15-year-old can get a learner’s permit does not mean parents are required to allow it. The same is true for the intermediate license and full license. Parents should allow their children higher driving privileges only after they’ve proven they’re reliable behind the wheel.

Just because the state is permissive with its teenage driving rules, parents are under no obligation to go along.