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Inexperience, Distractions A Dangerous Mix For Teen Drivers

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RALEIGH — According to the

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

, at least 25 percent of police-reported crashes involve some form of driver inattention. Inexperience also plays a major role in many accidents involving teens behind the wheel.

The road can be a dangerous and deadly place for teenage drivers.

"That's highly typical, and that's a reflection of inexperience, largely," says Robert Foss of the

UNC Highway Safety Research Center


Foss has made a career of studying crashes and the driving habits of teenagers.

Foss says that many crashes mimic what happened on June 4, 2001, when a Harnett County teen died in an accident in Fuquay-Varina. The teenager lost control of the car he was driving and hit several power poles before coming to a stop.

"People run off the road like that all the time. With an inexperienced driver they do that and they panic. They jerk the wheel and they're right across in the other lane," says Foss.

According to a study in the

Journal of the American Medical Association

, when you add passengers, the problem gets worse:

The type of vehicle a teenager drives can also make a difference. Many often are behind the wheel of an older car with fewer safety features or a powerful car that encourages speeding.

Foss says that parents should set guidelines on how often their teen drives and under what conditions. A driving agreement is one option.

Foss also urges parents to ride along with their teen drivers as often as possible. What is second nature to an experienced driver may not be for a young driver.

Not all teens are bad drivers. The state began a

graduated licensing program

in 1997. Under the program, teens gain driving privileges in steps instead of all at once.

Fatal crashes declined

by more than half between 1996 and 1999.


Ericka Lewis, Reporter
John Cox, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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