“You can make stricter rules,” Pehrson told the two dozen parents. Don’t allow a single teenage passenger, he said. Set an earlier curfew. “If we went with what really works, what the data shows us, we’d start at about 9 o’clock at night.”
‘I wish they were longer’
Deena Lindquist’s 15-year-old son just started driver’s education classes. But she’s been through this twice before.
When her 17-year-old son Justin got his license, he was good about following the rules, she said. But one day, she saw him coming home from Chanhassen High School with three kids in his car. “He told me, ‘My sixth month was up today,’ ” Lindquist recalled.
Because family rules don’t carry the same weight as state law, she’d like to see the limits on nighttime driving and passengers strengthened. A stricter law would make it “a little easier on the parents,” she said.
About half of teens surveyed as part of the national State Farm study, released this month, say that they “almost always” follow the licensure laws. The smallest share — 43 percent — said they follow the laws limiting the number of passengers in their cars. That compares to 70 percent of parents who believe their teen follows that rule.
When asked to list “the most likely reason” why they don’t follow the rules, teens most often said that they did not believe the police would catch them.
Since 2009, state patrol and police have been more closely monitoring the neighborhoods around four high schools in Itasca and northern St. Louis counties. Officers had been disturbed by the “driving conduct we would see — the speeding, the cellphone use, the kids piled into cars,” said Lt. Jason Engeldinger of the Minnesota State Patrol.
But citations for driving too late or with too many passengers are “very infrequent,” he said. “The vast majority of the time, we’re stopping them for some other traffic violation.”
Parents are key to “gaining that voluntary compliance,” Engeldinger said. They’re also responsible for helping their children practice in a variety of road conditions. Fog, rain, snow.
“The first time their kid drives on a gravel road shouldn’t be on their own,” he said.
More study needed?
Lawmakers took action in 2008, after numbers showed Minnesota having the highest share of teenagers behind the wheel in deadly crashes. The state no longer holds that title.
In 2011, 10.7 percent of drivers in Minnesota’s fatal crashes were between the ages of 15 and 20, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about the national average.
At an October traffic safety conference, Dr. Leslie Seymour, with the Minnesota Department of Health, will answer a big question in bold type in her slides: Do graduated driver’s licenses work?
Her answer: Yes. “But possibly not in the manner it was intended to,” Seymour said.
The law has taken teens off the road, her research suggests, but it probably has not improved their driving skills. Since 2002, the number of crashes involving teenage drivers has fallen faster than for other age groups. But after taking into account the total miles traveled, the crash rate for teens actually increased — by 39 percent. Meanwhile, every other age group’s crash rate per miles traveled fell.
So while teens are crashing less, the miles they’re traveling are deadlier.