News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 6, 2013

EDITORIAL: Reinforcing good driving behavior keeps teens safe


The Tribune-Star

---- — There are few things parents like to think about less than the possibility of their teenage child being involved in a traffic accident. Yet no parent would deny that fears of such an incident are never far from their mind.

New and disturbing statistics for the first six months of 2012 will do nothing to ease those fears.

According to a Governors Highway Safety Association report, traffic deaths among 16- and 17-year-old drivers increased more sharply in Indiana than in any other state during the first half of 2012. The recently released report indicate both Indiana and Tennessee recorded 16 teen driver deaths, part of an overall increase nationwide. Indiana showed the greatest jump — from three to 16 — during the same time period from the previous year.

Such statistics do fluctuate, and it’s impossible to attribute a direct cause to this year-over-year increase. But it must be taken seriously.

Capt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police recently told the Indianapolis Star that the usual culprit of texting and driving is something to consider. But he told the Star in an article published last week that many factors contribute to teen driving deaths.

“We have inexperience in driving,” Bursten said in reference to  teen drivers. “And anything that divides attention plays a role — anything from a person talking to a driver in the car to a person talking on the phone or operating an MP3 or iPod — or texting while they’re driving.”

Bursten said the mental approach to driving by a teen can also lead to problems. They sometimes think they’re invincible, that nothing bad can happen to them. That can lead to teen drivers making bad judgments, from distracted driving to drunk driving.

“The reality is bad things happen to good people and bad people and oftentimes it’s based upon choices that are made or not made,” he told the Star.

So, how do we teach, then reinforce, good driving behavior, which includes making good judgments?

“It starts with parents taking time to talk to children about the responsibility of driving,” Bursten said. “It’s sending children to drivers education before they get their license. It involves the constant reinforcement of the message of good driving behavior. You can’t just talk about it once and check it off.”

A steady, positive approach is best. It takes time and energy. While teens will get tired of hearing about it, we can’t let up. Police can’t do it alone. Schools and teachers can’t do it alone. Even parents can’t do it alone. It takes a combined, sustained effort.