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The old lament "youth is wasted on the young" especially rings true with teen driving. It's a time of life when caution and pragmatism succumb to the intoxicating sense of infallibility. Cars aren't viewed as dangerous. Instead, some see them as a high-tech stereo system on wheels designed solely to impress friends and members of the opposite sex.
It's a prevailing mindset with all teenagers who are still 10 years or so away from being tamed by the lessons of experience. Unfortunately for some, they never live long enough to learn.
Sixteen-year-old drivers are nationally involved in almost 10 times the number of fatal car accidents as drivers between the ages of 30-60. While here in Montana, you'll find that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death with its teenagers. It's a sobering statistic that may soon change.
Before the state passed a graduated driving law in July 2006, Montana ranked as the only state without any special teenage driving restrictions or requirements―not surprising when you consider that in the 1990s the State removed speed limit signs from its Interstate. The main provisions of this law include:
- requiring new teenage drivers to have at least 50 hours of driving experience, including 10 at night, before being allowed to apply for a license. As of now, there are no mandatory number of hours required, but only a suggestion to have a minimum of 25-30 hours of quality, behind-the-wheel time.
- no driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. during a teenager's first year of owning a license except in certain job-related circumstances.
- during a teenager's first six months of owning a license, he or she won't be allowed to have more than one passenger under the age of 18, other than family members, in the vehicle he or she is driving.
If you're a teenager, do anything legally possible to gain driving experience before applying for a license. Read Montana's Driver License Manual. Use your Learner's License to drive at every chance. The more hours you practice behind the wheel the more hours you may be adding to your own life.
Tips for new drivers
Here's a little friendly advice for new drivers from someone who's been there. They don't teach you everything in school!
- Don't order mega-size drinks at the drive-through. They tip over in the drink holders when you turn or stop, and if you hold the drink between your legs for stability, then you can't operate the floor pedals.
- Don't try to eat a sandwich or burger while you're driving. The mayonnaise-covered tomatoes will fall into your lap and you'll have to make a snap decision between swerving to the curb (bad) or leaving the grease stain on your jeans (bad).
- Don't make or receive calls on your cell phone while you are driving. It's bad karma, everyone else on the road will be irritated with you, and you won't realize you're going too slow and swerving all over the place until you cause an accident. Same goes for applying makeup while driving: just don't!
- Don't under any circumstances send a text message when you're at the wheel. The police officer won't be sympathetic when you explain that you absolutely, positively could not wait until you pulled off the road to text "c u soon" to your best friend, so instead you rear-ended someone while your eyes and thumbs were busy on the keypad.
- Don't be lame and give in to peer pressure. If some nimrod in the back seat says, "How fast can this thing go?" ignore them―they're not the one who will get busted or cause an accident. Someone in the car has to be the grown-up: you.
- Don't panic and jump out of the car if you notice a bee on the inside of the windshield. Ever seen your car roll down the street without a driver? You don't want to.
- Do wear your seatbelt every time you get into a car, even for a short ride. Something as common as stopping suddenly to avoid a cat darting across the street can cause your face to meet your steering wheel. The results won't be pretty, and your prom date will find an excuse to back out.
- Do be vigilant for other drivers who are not as with it as you are, and keep your distance. You never know when they will decide to enter your space (since they won't bother to signal), and the element of surprise isn't as fun on the road as it is at a birthday party.
- Do install a dog barrier in the back of your car before taking Rover for a ride. Rover will want to be in the front seat with you, and trying to swat him back with one hand while steering with the other is a sure way to take out a whole line of parked cars.
- Do obey speed limits so that you will have time to react should an unexpected obstacle (a person, another car, an animal) appear. Besides, no one will believe you got that huge dent going "only 10 miles an hour."
- Do listen to your stereo at a low enough volume that you can hear emergency sirens. Those fire trucks are a lot bigger than you, so you'll want to know one is approaching before it runs you over.
- Do take it easy, pay attention, and take the rules of the road seriously. In a few years when you can honestly say you've never had a ticket or an accident, people will respect you, and it will be an enormous point of pride.
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