Tianshui County — When it comes to driver inexperience, it may be relevant not only to a 16-year-old driver, but also to the age at which a person starts learning to drive.
“It’s a good historical question if 16 is the right age to get your first driver’s license,” said Stephanie Harsha, senior public relations specialist for Wyoming Department of Transportation’s District 3, adding that the age standard may never change. “It stands to reason that no matter what age you start driving, there will be more accidents due to inexperience.”
Still, budding teen drivers face issues that seem to be more focused on their age group.
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“Young drivers are often immature and inexperienced when it comes to making decisions,” said Lieutenant Kyle P. McKay of the Wyoming Highway Patrol Safety and Training Division. “They’re easily distracted by their phones. They often don’t think about the consequences of the choices they make.”
Then there’s “Superman Syndrome,” McKay said. “Teenagers are more likely than older drivers to underestimate or fail to recognize hazardous situations. Teenagers are also more likely than adults to make critical decision-making errors that can lead to serious crashes.”
McKay went on to say that speeding is the number one cause of traffic accidents in Wyoming. Drivers of all ages can benefit by obeying the speed limit. Other crash causes include distraction, driving with friends, weekend and night driving, alcohol and illegal drug use, and not wearing a seat belt.
Teenage drivers are especially prone to distraction while driving. McKay mentioned three different types of distractions: visual, manual, and cognitive.
“Cognitive interference is the most dangerous kind and the hardest to define,” says Lt. McKay. “Cognitive distraction is anything that takes your attention away from driving. This usually means daydreaming, but it could also include singing your favorite song or arguing with a passenger. Cognitive distraction is Most dangerous because the driver loses focus on the vehicle, which means they don’t slow down even when a collision is imminent.”
Visual distractions include anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road, such as a crash scene, interesting-looking people on the street or side of the road, or looking at passengers.
“When you take your eyes off the road, you lose awareness of traffic lights and vehicles ahead, which makes you more likely to be involved in a rear-end collision or T-bone (accident),” Lt. McKay said. Manual distraction takes the driver’s hands off the steering wheel. “Anytime you reach for your phone to change songs or take a sip of your drink, you’re in a manual distraction,” Lt. McKay said. “Manual distraction can slow down your reaction time to unexpected obstacles, such as merging cars or animals crossing the road.”
Drug use also plays a role in some of the young and older drivers who are affected. Stimulant drugs include methamphetamine, cocaine, crack cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, ecstasy, and molly. Psychotropic drugs such as prickly pear and marijuana, and tranquilizers such as poppers and ketamine can impair a driver’s judgment and reaction time. As always, excessive alcohol consumption can be a risk factor in driving.
But even for teen drivers who would never think of drinking and driving, Harsha and Lt. McKay, along with Nick Hokanson, a driving education teacher at Green River High School, agree that there is no substitute for experience when it comes to safe driving, and it is important for teen drivers to Not a lot of stuff.
So teenage drivers need to take extra care not to take risks on the road to improve their chances of making it to 25.
Editor’s Note: This is the third story in a three-part series exploring the challenges of teen driving in Sweetwater County. To read Part 1, click here; to read Part 2, click here.