News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

August 20, 2010

Ex-ISU prof urges tougher driving standards

Indiana safety advocates say parents play key role in reducing risks for teen drivers

INDIANAPOLIS — A longtime advocate of tougher teen-driving laws returns to the Indiana Statehouse this week with advice for both parents and lawmakers: If you want to save young lives, set a better example.

Stan Henderson, who retired this summer as an associate professor of health and safety at Indiana State University, wants Indiana to adopt a set of common standards for mandatory driver’s education that would increase time behind the wheel  and in the classroom.  But he also wants adult drivers to do a better job of complying with traffic laws. Henderson contends novice teen drivers often mimic what they see once they hit the road, resulting in deadly consequences.

“They learn what the speed limits are, but then they see how people drive,” said Henderson. “They learn quickly that there’s a difference between what adults say and what they do.” Henderson was scheduled to testify Thursday in front of a panel of state legislators charged with examining whether new laws that restrict teenage drivers go far enough. 

Henderson helped develop the national standards for teen driving that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants all states to adopt.

Among the NHTSA recommendations: increased parental involvement in teen driver education, including a written agreement between teens and parents defining the rules and consequences that would serve as the basis for teens to earn progressively broader driving privileges.

“We have to create a culture of safe driving,” Henderson said. “That means everybody, parents, schools, communities, the state, has to commit to it.”

Driving the effort are tragic statistics: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, with the greatest crash rate among 16-year-olds. Safety experts blame their limited driving experience and immaturity that results in risk-taking.  Unlike at least 25 other states, Indiana doesn’t require mandatory driver’s education for teenagers. Nor does it have a common standard for what should be taught in driver’s education courses.

“We have high standards in this state for driver’s education instructors, but no standards for what they teach,” said Sherry Deane of the AAA Hoosier Motor Club, who was expected to testify at Thursday’s hearing. She points to a 2005 national study that shows teens who take formal driver training have much lower crash rates.

A legislative study committee looked at these same issues last year but came up with no recommendations on how to standardize or expand driver’s education. Henderson and Deane, who are both parents, want other Hoosier parents to take more notice.

“We spend 16 years protecting our children from every harm that comes their way.” Deane said. “Then we hand them the keys to the one thing that’s most likely going to kill them.”

Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at


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