Young Drivers Account for 23-Percent of Michigan Crashes

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Monday night's van rollover, which left three teenagers dead and five severely wounded outside of Fowlerville, was the fourth major crash in Mid- Michigan with a teenager behind the wheel this month.

State statistics show teenagers and young drivers between the ages 16-24 accounted for about 23-percent of Michigan crashes last year. Driving experts say most accidents involving young people are single-car accidents resulting from distractions inside the car and other mistakes related to driver inexperience. Nationally, at least one-third of teenage traffic fatalities occur at night.

On Monday night, the 16-year-old driver was carrying seven other passengers between the ages of 12 and 16. He crashed just after 11 p.m. when he failed to make a turn on a dirt road in Handy Twp. That mistake caused him to plow right into a patch of trees.

State Republican Rep. Edward Gaffney says in April 2003, he introduced a bill that would prevent new drivers from driving with more than one unrelated passenger during their first several months behind the wheel. Gaffney says he expects that bill to be reviewed by a transportation committee in the fall.

Driving experts say kids and young adult drivers also frequently forget to look both ways at traffic lights and street signs, and speeding is a common problem among new drivers.

However, Michigan officials report crashes involving sixteen-year-olds are down about 25-percent since 1997, when the state implemented a Graduated Driver License program. It's a multi-tiered program that requires kids to accumulate dozens of hours of experience gradually before they can drive with an unrestricted license.

It also requires parental authorization each time a child progresses or graduates to another driver license level. Only when a child is seventeen, has parental authorization and sufficient driving experience, can he or she receive a license with no restrictions.

Driving experts encourage parents to set limitations and ground rules for their new-driver children when they take the car out for a drive.