Place checks on teenage drivers

Minnesota teens lead the nation in fatal crashes.

There has been a lot of talk about improving Minnesota’s roads and transportation this year, but we also may need to take steps to improve our drivers. Our state is home to the highest rate of teenage driving deaths in the nation. From 2004 through 2006, 18.4 percent of fatal accidents in our state involved a teenage driver. Over the same period, the national average was 14.3 percent. This disparity between our rate and the national average warrants some attention to make our roads safer for all drivers.

Turning 16 has long been a rite of passage when suddenly a teen is granted the right to drive, a highly glorified right in our culture. But maybe that right has been taken too lightly. Is our driver-education curriculum effective, and are we properly preparing teens for the responsibilities and dangers of the road? These areas deserve a closer look. The state should also consider more restrictions on our youngest drivers.

Some states have imposed strict rules about the rights of teen drivers. Although they vary from state to state, some prevent young drivers from being on the roads at night, and others forbid teens from carrying multiple passengers. About two years ago, Minnesota passed a law banning the use of cell phones by teenage drivers, but it may be time to further tighten our restrictions.

Changing driver’s license requirements alone might not completely address this issue. Minnesota is also home to weather conditions that are unkind to drivers; winter driving can be tough for even experienced drivers. Minnesota is also home to high rates of drinking among teenagers. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, of the under 21-year-old drivers who were killed in accidents in 2006, nearly 50 percent tested positive for alcohol.

With the Twin Cities metro area projected to grow by one million residents in the next 30 years, we will continue to see more and more drivers on congested roads. We need to take this issue seriously, and we need to make sure that our teenage drivers are safe and keep our roads safe for all.