Years ago, before there were computers, kids were taught how to drive by a trusted adult.
Sadly, that's not the case nowadays for many teenagers. They leave the DMV with that priceless piece of plastic and very little driving knowledge. Many of them haven't been behind the wheel enough to know how long it takes to come to a stop, how to steer on a wide curve or when to check their blind spot. Some assume a yellow light means press on the gas, a stop sign is for the other guy and the most important part of a car is the CD player. A number of our kids haven't been taught driving is a privilege, not a right.
I'm sure not all teens feel this way, but many do according to our national and state driving statistics. Every 2.25 hours an Alaska teenager causes a motor vehicle crash. This resulted in over 3,880 crashes in 2000 - more crashes than any other age group. If you wonder why we need a graduated drivers license program and why Canada, New Zealand and 38 other states love their programs, here's a hint: After implementing a GDL program, California's teenage motor vehicle injuries and deaths declined by 24 percent, Pennsylvania's dropped 27 percent and 58 percent respectively, and Michigan's teenage crashes declined overall by 25 percent. If you want more information about GDL, contact your local MADD chapter or look up this National Safety Council Web site: http://www.nsc.org/gdlsym/index.htm.
A graduated drivers license program is about responsible adults teaching our youth how to become good drivers.
As responsible adults, we should keep our kids off the road between midnight and 5 a.m. because that's when most crashes occur. As responsible adults, we should limit the number of their friends allowed in the car until novice drivers can handle the distraction. As responsible adults, we should teach them how to drive during daytime and evening hours. Finally, as responsible adults, we should hold our teenagers accountable when they chose to speed, run red lights and tailgate other cars.
Several studies in states which have a GDL program show strong support by parents and teenagers. Alaska's current system doesn't work and people will continue to be unnecessarily injured or killed as long as we don't have a graduated drivers license program. Is this what we want for Alaska's youth? Is this what we want for ourselves? The next time a teenager causes a motor vehicle tragedy because of underage drinking, excessive speed or inexperience; remember that it might have been avoided if Alaska had a graduated drivers license program.
Cindy Cashen is a member of the Juneau chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.