Driving Forces

Rob Capriccioso
March 7, 2005

UPDATE: On March 17, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a measure to prevent inexperienced teenage drivers from carrying teenage passengers except in limited circumstances. Four other bills focused on preventing teen driving-related deaths also passed. Maryland's governor is expected to sign the measures into law.


"We need to strengthen our driver education programs and make sure that students really spend the appropriate time behind the wheel," offers a student leader at Magruder High School in Rockville, Maryland.

"If we can prevent one more parent from going through the experience I lived through, it's worth it," says a mom from Howard County whose teenage son died in a car accident.

"We find that there are lots of people out there wondering what they can do," reports an educational coordinator for several schools in the area.

After 17 recent fatal accidents involving young drivers in the region, Maryland lawmakers have intensely focused on a topic that many constituents—teenagers, parents, and educators—care passionately about.

Which Road?

While concern over teen auto deaths is at a high pitch in Maryland, there's no clear consensus on what to do about it.

In late February, the Maryland Senate passed Democratic-sponsored legislation that would prevent new teenage drivers from carrying teenage passengers who are not family members during the first six months of a provisional driver's license. The idea, supported by research, is that reducing distractions also reduces risk. (The House has yet to approve a similar measure.)

On an average day in the U.S., 10 teens die in accidents involving teen drivers. Three factors—inexperience, night driving and distractions caused when other teens are riding in the car—all compound the problem, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

However, at a February 8, 2005 meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education, student member Sagar Sanghvi voted against a proposal to put the board on record in support of the bill. (The proposal ultimately passed, with most adult members in support of the measure.)

Sanghvi, a senior at Magruder High School, pointed out that he has sometimes driven to board meetings with teen passengers that aren't his family members. He said he found it interesting that he could serve on a board of adults—having equal vote on all issues—but, if the bill passed, he would face steep restrictions on how he chose to drive to the meetings.

He argues that it is more important to make changes that will "solve the issue, not merely hamper student rights." Says Sanghvi, "Merely making small changes will not solve the problem—we need to ensure teens are prepared in the right fashion."

Jason Pate, the Executive Board Member for the Maryland Association of Student Councils (and a student at Magruder High School) also has concerns. "Without parent involvement in their student's driving, and without improving the rarely-evaluated driving 'schools' in this state, the driving restrictions on their own will simply not get the job done," he says. "I certainly do not see the bills being put in place by the Maryland General Assembly drastically reducing accidents in the immediate future."

Others have argued that restrictions on teen driving unfairly penalize rural students. In the case of the passenger law that passed the Maryland Senate, a handful of lawmakers argued that the bill could hurt people who cannot afford a car of their own and those who must rely on carpooling.

Widespread Adult Support

But efforts to impose some new restrictions on new drivers have gained momentum with the surge in fatalities and with new information from the frontiers of brain science.

A recent study from the National Institutes of Health, released in April 2004, reviewed research that indicates the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25. In the past, scientists believed that the strong muscles, quick reflexes, and enhanced senses of most teen drivers should, hypothetically, make them excellent drivers.

Currently, Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) and many prominent state lawmakers from both parties support several restrictions.

A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found that hand-held cellular phone use increased among drivers between the ages of 16 and 24, from 5 percent in 2002 to 8 percent in 2004.

One piece of legislation would increase the number of hours that a new driver must spend practicing with supervision. Another bill would prevent young drivers from using cell phones while driving. It's based on research that says limiting distractions is crucial to preventing teen accidents.

The governor also wants to increase penalties for drunk driving by teens and to extend the duration of the state's learner's permit from four months to six.

Meanwhile, several members of the Maryland General Assembly have been seen wearing plastic wristbands with the words "Drive-Think-Live" emblazoned on the black bracelets. Comcast, the communications giant, has sponsored the campaign's message. The company donated $1 million in airtime to several 30-second public safety messages featuring the family members and friends of young people who have been killed in traffic accidents.

Before today's teen drivers were even born, Maryland lawmakers passed a teen driver restriction that new research indicates has saved many lives. In 1979, state lawmakers approved the first graduated driver's license program in the U.S., according to the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Graduated licensing programs limit a teen's driving until he or she gets more experience. Most other states adopted graduated licensing much later, in the 1990s.

According to a report from the organization, the total number of 16-year-olds killed in traffic crashes fell by nearly 150 between 1993 and 2003. That change occurred in spite of an 18 percent increase in the 16-year-old population over the period.

Officials say that decrease is due in part to the drop in the number of 16-year-olds licensed to drive as states passed more restrictive laws.

Parking Lot Debates

At a January Teen Driver Safety Committee meeting in Columbia, Maryland, sponsored by the Howard County school system, a group of principals, parents, students and members of the police department got together to discuss the role of schools in making driving safer for teens.

Several administrators suggested a role for high schools in the region in encouraging safe driving. Some were in favor of tying the ability of a student to get a school parking lot pass to maintenance of a clean driving record. The idea is that students want to be able to drive to school, so they will have an incentive to follow the law.

"I'm glad students are here because this would directly affect them," said David Bruzga, a director of secondary school instruction at River Hill High School, in reference to the small group of teens in attendance.

One female student brought up an issue with the plan: What if a student who needs to get to school has had a minor violation on his or her driving record? Should they be forever punished? Or should they be encouraged to learn from their mistake, and ultimately be able to receive a permit?

Another student suggested that administrators aim at students' pocketbooks, rather than their driving rights. "I think it should it should be more costly [in terms of money], if you don't have a clean record," suggested the student. "Some students also need to park in order to play sports."

Adults leading the meeting indicated that these kinds of questions need to be considered, and said they planned on discussing them more in the future.

The Worst Path

Connie Lewis, who was also in attendance at the "Teen Driver Safety Committee" meeting, can make arguments against teen driver restrictions sound hollow.

On April 14, 1996, a policeman appeared at Lewis' door. He informed her that her son had died in a car accident.

What would she say to those who oppose stricter teen driving regulations? "I would have them walk in my shoes—I know what parents who have lost a child this school year are going through."

As the principal of Atholton High School in Columbia, Lewis today has a platform to make teen driver safety a huge issue for her students and their parents.

"I would much rather have to tell a parent that their student can't park in a school parking lot," she says, "[than] to inform them that their child is dead."

In reference to the parking permit plan, Lewis said it would be important to determine how many students already have points on their license to get a sense of how big a problem educators would be dealing with.

Near the conclusion of the meeting, she volunteered her own Atholton students to serve as a test case for the plan. Atholton student Brandon Boy was already convinced that the permit plan held merit: "I think it"s a good idea," he said. "People will become more aware of what they're doing in order to keep their permit."


Rob Capriccioso is a former staff writer for Connect for Kids.




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Should be 18.

No way--the age should stay at 16 because 18 is too old and you should be having your own responsibilities when you are a legal adult.

Im writing an essay on "why the legal driving age should stay at 16" and I think that the legal age should stay at 16 because teens want to feel more independant so they don&;t have to ask their parents to drive them around everywhere, therefore getting their liscence at 16 gives them freedom and time for improvement! TEENAGERS ARE NOT CARELESS OR IRRESPONSIBLE! :)

i think that it should stay at 16 to because it not the age of the person that matters its the person themself. some kids get so excited bout driving that they jus want to do it right away. there are plenty of teens who actually want to take the time and learn to drive so i hope that they keep it that age and dont ruin it 4 other teens

Drinking age should be 21!!!!

In Australia as in the US (between 14 and 17) and Canada the age of both a permit and license varies between states. In my state of Victoria you have to be 16 for a learner&;s permit and 18 for a license. In most other Australian states it is 16 for a learner&;s permit (with the exception of the ACT at 15 and 9 months) and 17 for a license. After you get a license depending on the state there is a period of restrictions lasting between onr and three years.

I personally support 17 or 18 as a good age to drive on your own. I think 14-16 is too young. I feel 15 or 16 is a good age to drive supervised by parents.

The only problem with being 18 when you start driving is that you wont be as much prepared for "The Real World" when you turn 18. Learning to drive before your 18 prepares you with the responsibilities that you need in order to be mature :P

i think they should just keep the driving age at 16 because regardless of which age you are something could easily happen even if you were 30 it could still happen so i think the law should stay the same.

I do not want to say you are wrong, but you do not have all of your facts. A human&;s brain is not fully developed until 24 years of age. So I believe that a 30 year old could successfully avoid a colision that a 16 year old couldnt.

I love debate, but about stuff like this it should not be open for debate. People with crash rather they are 16 or 36 it doesnt matter what age you are if your going to get ina crah, your going to get in a crash it doent matter

Actually a teenager would react alot quicker then a 30 year old becasue they are more alert being a new driver and some playing sports need to be Plus they don&;t have money to fix the problem so they are more aware then a 30 year old

I am doing a large power point on drinking and driving. Many kids around this county and town believe that drinking is no big deal and that it&;s only the persons business. I, on the other hand think that drinking and driving affects everyone around that person. There should be harsher punishments for those who drink and drive. It causes peoples lives to be lost and it should be enforced so noone has to deal with that pain and loss. I believe also, the drinking age should still be 21 because the kids in America already abuse this addictive drink. If they were to legalize it, I think that kids would abuse it even more now with the chance of killing more people.

There is, as there has been for some time now, an argument on the age that kids (teens) should start driving. I am on the fence when it comes to this argument. Teens should be able to drive at the age of 15 (with a permit or parent supervised driving) because it teaches them responsibility, gives them experience for when they recieve a license, and it gives them freedom to drive themselves nstead of their parents driving them every where. On the other hand, Teens should not drive at the age of 15 becuase their brains are not fully developed, their parents may not know every law and may have bad habts that they teach their children createing dangerous drivers, and because some people, expecially senior citizens, are frightened by teen drives, which could make them nervous when driving causing them to cause an accident.
I have to write a multi-paragraph essay in English class about this subject so i have done my research, and will most likely use these reasons as my QPR&;s =D please respond to my comment if u agree dis agree or have something to add. thank you