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Car Culture

Driving: Teenage America’s Deadliest Preventable Epidemic

A 17-year-old driver killed two in this recent Queens crash.

Automobile crashes are the number one killer of teenagers in the United States, with nearly 6,000 deaths a year for the past decade, and more than 300,000 injuries annually. Yet millions of parents continue to let their kids drive unsupervised, many of them counting on God and government to keep them safe.

Last Sunday's New York Times profiled families in the Tri-State region who have lost children on the roads, and examined state efforts to reduce the death tolls. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and localities including Westchester have enacted restrictions on teen driving, with mixed results. Oddly -- or perhaps not -- for all the anguish expressed in these articles, there is little discussion about the fact that driving is a voluntary activity, particularly for school-age children. Writer Gerri Hirshey's son, for example, accumulated a number of citations shortly after getting his license, though she exposed him to daily newspaper accounts of teen crashes. Despite his record so far behind the wheel, he still drives himself and his 15-year-old sister to school, "aided by four-wheel drive, seat belts, lectures, prayers" and "the morning's maternal cliché -- be careful, go slowly, pay attention."

The inevitability with which society treats this "epidemic" is not lost on Times readers, who write:

    • The issue goes far deeper than teenagers. All Americans drive recklessly. We are always in a hurry. We hide behind the anonymity of a motor vehicle to cast aside our kind, gentle natures and to allow the lawless, reckless, savage in us to emerge. Car manufacturers advertise this in their T.V. commercials showing daring maneuvers and warning in letters too small to see "Professional stunt driver, do not attempt".
    • Driving an automobile today is one of the most complicated activities most of us undertake on a daily basis, yet Americans, in general, treat their cars as extensions of their living rooms.
    • The "high school senior with a new girlfriend and places to go" would be much safer if he could walk or take the subway. There's a reason why the teenage death rate in New York City is well below average: Kids in the city generally don't drive, and driving is the single most dangerous activity that most people engage in.

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