Our Opinion: Safety habits reduce risk for teen drivers

During this week’s observance of National Teen Driver Safety Week, the emphasis is on minimizing risk.

In Ron Howard’s newest movie, “Rush,” former Formula One champion Niki Lauda, portrayed by Daniel Brühl, calculates the risk factors — including track conditions and weather — for each race.

If professional drivers embrace and practice safety, it stands to reason that we amateurs follow their example.

And motorists who practice safety when they first learn to drive, typically as teens, are more likely to make it a lifelong habit.

Sadly, statistic show too many teens are not observing basic safety laws and practices, and they are paying a dreadful cost.

Last year, 64 teen (ages 15-19) vehicle occupants died in Missouri traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Among those fatalities, 81 percent were unbelted, and 11 percent of those unbelted teens also were impaired drivers.

State laws and regulations are designed to instill safe driving habits, but those rule are useless if they are ignored.

Missouri’s Graduated Driver’s License law requires teens to wear seat belts when driving or riding in motor vehicles. But, said Leanna Depue, executive committee chair of the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, “Only 66 percent of Missouri’s teens wear their seat belts.”

In addition, for drivers under age 21, state laws ban texting while driving and impose zero tolerance for alcohol consumption, which means a trace of alcohol is grounds for driver’s license suspension.

Students at William Woods University in Fulton heard this week from members of ThinkFirst Missouri, safety advocates whose lives have been altered as a result of a vehicle crash.

Among them was Penny Lorenz, who, at age 17, became a paraplegic after a friend crashed a car in which Lorenz was a passenger. Lorenz also was not wearing a seat belt.

Motorists — teens and adults — do not typically calculate the risk of being involved in an accident when they get behind the wheel.

Accidents, by definition, are not expected.

That’s why basic safety practices, like buckling up before turning on the ignition, must be standard operating procedure.

When young drivers adopt those safety procedures as habits, they minimize the risk of suffering death or injuries in traffic accidents.

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