The Dangers of Teen Driving

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The Truth About Drivers' Education

Unlike past generations, many of today's teens don't learn how to drive from their parents. Instead, they are sent to drivers' education programs -- something McMurray believes is partly to blame for the high rate of teen accidents. "Drivers' education doesn't necessarily produce safe drivers," says McMurray. "Instead, it comes down to a teen's demeanor and overall experience level. In fact," she points out, "many states don't even require teens to get in a car with an instructor before earning a license. Parents send in a check thinking that their child will be trained in all aspects of driving, but that just doesn't happen." Instead, she says, teens are taught only the basics and how to pass the driver's test.

In some cases, the driving instructors themselves may be poor examples of safe driving. For instance, a recent survey of driving schools in New York state found that 46 of 257 instructors had criminal records and some had suspended licenses. Sixteen percent owned vehicles that failed simple safety inspections.

Consequently, many parents never realize what a risk their teens are taking when they get behind the wheel. Take the case of Danielle Simas, 17, of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. On February 25, 2000, Danielle was driving to her boyfriend's house on the interstate, when she attempted to switch into the center lane. She almost collided with the car next to her and quickly veered back into her lane. As she swerved, her Nissan Maxima hit an icy patch of road, skidded, and crashed into an embankment. The impact of the collision propelled Danielle's body from the car into the road, where she was hit by an oncoming car and died instantly.

"The first things we asked the police were, 'Was she driving fast?' 'No.' 'Did she have her seatbelt on?' 'Yes.' 'Was she using her cell phone?' 'No,'" says Phyllis Simas, 46, Danielle's mother. "She just wasn't experienced enough to handle the icy conditions."

Danielle's father, Tony, 47, a credit collections manager, says he and his wife had sent Danielle to what they thought was the best drivers' education program in town, but they learned later that she'd never been given skid training. "She didn't know what to do when her car lost control," he says.

Continued on page 3:  Along for the Ride


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