Driving at night poses a number of risks for experienced drivers as well as those who recently completed online driver education
. The lack of illumination makes it difficult to adjust to changing road conditions while some people simply don't have the vision that they do in full daylight.
But a study recently conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute found that the youngest generation of drivers, those limitations aren't readily recognized, in spite of online drivers ed school
curricula that argue otherwise.
The data comes from Texas schools, but the TTI researchers say that the data is universal. Key findings include:
- Less than one in every hundred teen motorists understand the difficulties of driving safely at night, yet fifty of them find themselves on the road after 10 p.m. on a regular basis.
- Teens still use their cell phones for texting and calls at night, although many reported that they understood the implications for their safety.
- Education programs calling for reduced drug and alcohol usage have had an effect, since nearly three in four young motorists believe that they're the leading cause of crashes. Unfortunately, they are fifth on the list of causes.
The scientists at the institute argue that the data shows that while massive media attention has been paid to the value of keeping cell phone usage and driving in separate spheres, common sense notions of safety in adverse conditions, including at night, have fallen by the wayside.
"The teen driver safety problem has reached epidemic proportions - here in Texas and around the world," Director Dennis Christiansen said in announcing the report. "It's an urgent public health crisis, and TTI has been working for years to better understand it.
The numbers are stark: on a national basis the number of night time accident fatalities has risen to nearly half, or put more succinctly: "In 2008, 4,322 fatal crashes involved drivers ages 16 to 19 years, with 2,148 of them - or just under 50 percent - at night."
Safety experts are working to link the increase of cell phone possession and usage by teens, often provided as a safety measure by parents in case of accidents, with the number of accidents. For now, they say that the growth in the number of accidents matches the growth in cell phone use by teens, although there is as yet no causal relationship.
For older drivers, those who are 20 and up, the key driver in the increase in nighttime fatal crashes is alcohol. It may be that the lessons of driving school
have been forgotten by that time, or that college and adolescent invincibility still hold for that age group.
For younger drivers, however, the need to educate them about the dangers inherent to driving when the sun is down is worth noting for parents.
Reinforcing the facts can be as simple as asking them to drive by one's house or apartment near sunset, and flick their lights when they see a parent at the entrance. When one compares that to the same ability at night, the difference in distance could help nudge teens towards driving a bit more slowly, and with fewer distractions after sundown.