Driving the car is a rite of passage for young people. It signals greater independence and the coming of adulthood. For many young people it is a sign of status. Young drivers are known as greater risk takers relative to adults. This, combined with the operation of a several ton vehicle and limited on-the-road experience, is clearly a mix that leads to greater risk. Reducing risk requires multiple interventions.
The Road Safety Office in Mayo County Council has produced a driver contract Christmas card that puts some control directly into the hands of parents and allows them to enter into a safe driving pact with their son or daughter.
From 1997 to 2007 there were 429 killed and 1,332 serious injuries in the driver age group 17 to 24 years on Irish roads. After the shock and the anguish comes the soul searching – are we doing all we can to reduce the casualty lists?
Why are the figures higher for young drivers? There are several reasons. They're less experienced drivers. They're often driving to and from parties or friends at night, when visibility is bad. And they tend to drive older, smaller cars that aren't as safe as contemporary models. When they have passengers, especially male teen passengers, they tend to drive faster and take more risks.
They can be easily distracted by food or drinks in the car, or by mobile phones. They're less likely to drive under the influence of alcohol than adults, but when they do, they're more likely than adults to crash. Put two or more of these factors together and the risk is much higher.
Garda Superintendent William Keaveney, based at Castlebar Garda Station, said: “We hope this campaign will help to reduce the number of collisions in this age group that cause so much pain and loss for families.”
But there's one group that's largely been left out of the debate, and that's parents. They can have a huge influence on whether a teenager is a safe driver or a danger on the road.
It’s parents who give permission for the teenager to get a licence, they control access to the vehicle, decide what kind of car their child will drive, act as driving instructor and supervisor, and serve as a role model for safe driving.
Yet parents can be often totally unaware of how much a risk their teenager is on the road. They may be more concerned with the details of the trip – where the teenager is going and what time they'll be home, than on whether they are driving safely, under what conditions and with whom.
Road safety officer Noel Gibbons said: “We hope this card will help parents and teens focus on safe driving habits. Parents and teens should sit down and discuss these recommendations. This way everyone knows the rules and sticks to them.”
Once the teenager has a newly acquired licence, it is recommended parents enter into a written agreement with teen drivers, such as the sample provided on the back of these Christmas cards. These cards will be sent to secondary schools and colleges in Co Mayo and can be downloaded from www.roadsafetymayo.ie