Monday, January 15, 2001

Most parents back their teen drivers

Survey: It's other kids who are careless

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        My son never speeds. My daughter always wears her seat belt. It's my teen's friendswho worry me more. When it comes to teens' disproportionately poor driving habits, some parents have a “not my kid” approach, according to an Enquirer online reader questionnaire on young drivers that prompted 207 responses from parents and teens.

        Police and health-safety experts say parents' denial might contribute to the high rate of fatal crashes among young drivers.

        The multiple-choice, unscientific survey was included in an Oct. 29 Enquirer analysis of young-driver statistics. Parents said they most feared other teens' driving twice as often as they cited their own teens as a “biggest concern.”

        But that doesn't add up.

        “I think people feel they know their kids, and feel they're responsible,” said Monica Alles-White, coordinator of Hamilton County Safe Communities, which conducts programs at high schools. “But what parents don't seem to realize is that the kids you read about in the paper have parents, too.”

        Enquirer research of every fatal crash in nine-county Greater Cincinnati since

        1995 revealed that drivers under age 21 represent only 7 percent of all drivers, but 16 percent of those involved in deadly crashes. In 2000, the rate for drivers 20 and under was 21 percent, higher than any other year studied.

        Of the 18 teens killed in 2000 in crashes with a teen behind the wheel, half were the driver. Of those nine, six were driving alone.

        Survey comments from two mothers of problem teen-drivers show an apparent fault line:

        • “I am the parent of a teen-age boy who just recently had his license suspended for three months because of two violations. The state of Ohio has made a mistake and should put the child back to a status of temporary permit and driving with a parent. The result was that my teen-age son is now very nervous about driving, and doesn't need to be nervous behind the wheel of a car.” — Carol Geisen

        She was among those who feared her son's friends' driving more than her own child's.

        • “My son thinks you should be able to drive as fast as you want as long as you think you can control the car and you feel safe!!?? He has always driven too fast. He is 18 and has only received one ticket. ... I worry every day that my son is going to hurt himself or someone else. I know he would not be able to live with himself if that happened.” — Marietta Kenneweg of Campbell County, Ky.

        She was most concerned with her own son's driving.

Crash factors
               While overall deadly crashes were down significantly in 2000, a wide range of prevention programs — conducted by health organizations, police, schools and civic organizations — has seen mixed results with teens.

        Research found young drivers are the likeliest to be cited for inattention behind the wheel.

        But the most common factor is speed.

        One parent wrote in her survey response: “Raising the age will not help teens understand the seriousness of speed or seat belts. This needs to be handled at home, and too many parents buy them cars and let them go with no additional supervision.”

        For years, Essy Allen of Bethel rarely wore her seat belt. But she's worn it every time since her 16-year-old daughter, Tiffany, became one of the 18 teens killed last year in teen-driving fatals. She was an unbelted passenger.

        “They're not realistic,” Ms. Allen said of other parents. “It's not always the kid next door, it's your kid, your niece. ... I can't stress enough to get the seat-belt message out.”

        Since 1995, unsafe speed was a factor in 42 percent of young-driver fatal crashes in Clermont and 38 percent in Butler County.

        Clermont, home to a third of the 18 teen-fatals last year, including Tiffany Allen, also had Greater Cincinnati's first in 2001.

        On Jan. 6, 18-year-old Christina Folchi was killed when her 1995 Saturn fishtailed, crossed the center line and was struck by an oncoming dump truck. Ohio State Highway Patrol investigators said she was driving too fast for road conditions, though it was not immediately clear whether she was exceeding the speed limit.

        But according to Enquirer survey responses, speeding was only the third-biggest concern among parents of teens.

        That doesn't surprise Indiana state police Cpl. Robert Garcia of the Versailles barracks, who thinks the “Not my kid” philosophy extends to many behaviors.

        “You try and lead by example,” he said, “but it's harder to do with today's teen-agers.”


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