2017 Meldon Law Scholarship Winner – Andre O’Brien

Andre O’Brien’s Winning Scholarship Essay

Written by Andre O’Brien

Ensuring Teenage Driver Safety: Practical Solutions for a Serious Problem

In recent years there has been increased discussion and debate over the controversial topic of a state implemented update to the legal driving age of U.S. motorist.  Statistics collected by institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Transportation, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety all indicate one pervasive phenomenon: the likelihood of the occurrence of a fatal car crash in the U.S. is inversely proportional to the age of the driver involved in said accident.  This essay will identify several causes for the perpetuation of this phenomenon as well as offer several alternative prevention methods states can take to reduce crashes and injuries among young drivers.  The causes and preventative measures are not to be considered exhaustive.  Instead, they are intended to continue the dialogue concerning the state’s responsibility in ensuring teen motorist safety.  The prevention methods will not include any preventative measures which can be taken by the family of the young driver.  For the sake of this discussion, it will be assumed that increasing the legal age of drivers is not a feasible option at this junction.  It will also be understood that the cost of implementing a preventative method is of no concern.

The institutions mentioned above focused their research primarily on comparing crash data between young and older drivers.  For example, it was revealed that drivers age nineteen and younger have a higher risk of being in a car crash than older drivers.  Another conclusion derived from the data is even more ominous: for every mile driven, teen drivers are three times more likely to be in a fatal accident.  While this information is indeed relevant and essential to the overall issue of the safety of all motorist on the road, the numbers don’t speak to the cause or causes of these accidents.  Fortunately, the National Organization for Youth (NOY) Safety investigated a number of potential reasons behind the perceived higher risk rate among teenaged drivers.  According to NOY, sixty-six percent of teen passengers who died in a crash were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.  Fifty-eight percent of teens involved in crashes are distracted.  Twenty-five percent of car crashes involved an underage drinking driver.  And five percent of teen deaths in accidents are pedestrians while ten percent are bicyclists.  To summarize, teens are not wearing safety belts, they are distracted, they are drinking while driving, and they are not remaining cognizant of their surroundings as well as others on the road.

Now that that several causes of teenage fatal car accidents have been identified we can begin to address what States can do to reduce crashes and crash-related injuries among teen drivers.  Some of the causes for teen accidents are already addressed by law.  For example, by and large (with minor variance within certain jurisdictions) the legal drinking age for U.S. citizens is twenty-one.  It is already illegal to sell or otherwise provide minors with alcohol.  There are stiff penalties including fines and jail/prison sentences associated with breaking the underage drinking law.  As such, dissuading teens from drinking and limiting, if not eliminating the opportunity for teens to acquire alcohol (much less drinking while driving), falls mostly on the shoulders of the parents of said teens, the community, as well as businesses which sell alcohol.  However, the state can implement mandatory breathalyzer laws for teen drivers, regardless of driving record.  If a teen will be operating a vehicle that vehicle must be fitted with a breathalyzer at all times until they turn eighteen years of age.  It is already illegal in the U.S. to drive without wearing a safety belt.  To bolster this law states can require car manufacturers to install devices which will prevent cars from starting until the driver and passenger seatbelts are wholly engaged.  If for any reason the belt is removed while the vehicle is in motion an alert can be sent through the car’s speaker system which will not cease until the seatbelt is re-engaged.  For vehicles already in circulation, a device can be purchased which can be attached to the car as a periphery device.  As it pertains to accidents which involve pedestrians and bicyclist, a device can be installed which can send stop/start speed and average driving speed data to the insurance carrier which will keep a record of the driving habits of the teen.  If the teen is driving erratically or at high speeds, by law, the insurance company may either increase the cost of insurance or deny insurance coverage for the teen until proof of driving lessons for the youth has been established.  The set number of hours for lessons can be decided per state.  Finally, as it pertains to teens being distracted while driving, we must first identify the most likely nature of the distraction.  While being distracted by outside occurrences such as pedestrians, events, etc., or by passengers in the vehicle do occur, by far the number one distraction for teen drivers is texting while driving.  To combat this dangerous behavior states may mandate that teens use a phone app which disables the text feature of their phone whenever it is observed that the student is traveling at car speeds.  If the student is a passenger in the vehicle, they must upload a photo of themselves in the passenger side of the car.  This feature has already been implemented by the Uber and Lyft driving services, which periodically requires their drivers to verify that they are the person driving the vehicle while servicing customers.

The issue of teen safety on the road is not an easy issue to tackle.  However, everyone involved from family, community, and lawmakers can agree that it is of the utmost importance that teenage drivers exercise safe driving practices and procedures.  By implementing new alternative measures teens can continue to experience the freedom and convenience of driving while not endangering themselves or others on the road.

Bio: Andre O’Brien is a senior at the University of Phoenix where he will complete his Bachelor of Science in Education/Elementary Teacher Education in April of 2018. He currently co-teaches 2nd Grade girls at Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School in Philadelphia, Pa., and is a member of the RAND American Teacher Panel.