SIKESTON -- A recent survey showed teens don't consider themselves risky drivers, but these same teens also admitted they speed and talk on the cell phone while driving.
According to a Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, survey: 64 percent of teen drivers say they speed; 62 percent say they use a cell phone while driving; 19 percent say they they've driven after drinking alcohol; 15 percent say they've driven after using marijuana; 7 percent say they've driven after using other drugs; 33 percent say they don't wear seat belts; and 64 percent say they drive with more than three people in the car.
Jerry Vogle, in-car instructor for the driver's education program at Sikeston High School, said he's not surprised by most of SADD's survey results. Typically students are more cautious about speeding and other driving situations when they first begin driving. But as the summer course progresses, Vogle said he notices a difference in some students' driving.
"The first couple of weeks of driving time, the kids do well paying attention to what's going on and drive technically well," Vogle said. "In the last half or so of the class, they start get to where they think, 'This isn't as hard as I thought it was' and start paying attention a little less. That's when they make the mistakes like not watching speed."
In 2006, about 29 percent of the automobile accidents in Missouri involved young drivers, which are 20 years old and under, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol. Fatal crashes involved 22.5 percent of young drivers, which was a decrease by 2.8 percent from 2005. Crashes occur every 27.9 minutes involving a young driver. Of all accidents, 32 percent occurred on Fridays and Saturdays.
"Inattention continues to be the greatest cause of all accidents. It seems to be worse with teens," said Sgt. Dale Moreland, public information officer for Missouri State Highway Patrol's Troop E. "They know they're doing that. They think they're invincible."
Exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for conditions are leading causes of teen fatal accidents, Moreland said.
"I know we say this all the time, but they just need to slow down and buckle up. If they would pay total attention to the driving and always wear that seat belt, it would make a difference," Moreland said.
Over the past couple years Missouri passed laws in an effort to make teen drivers better ones. In January a new law enacted requiring teens with instruction permits to receive 40 hours of behind the wheel driving instruction -- compared to the previous requirement of 20 hours -- including a minimum of 10 hours of nighttime driving instruction that occurs between sunset and sunrise.
Also, in August 2006, a law was passed in Missouri restricting new teen drivers to not operate the vehicle with more than one passenger under 19 years old who is not an immediate family member. After the first six months, the drivers can't drive the vehicle with more than three passengers under 19 years old who are not immediate family members.
Moreland said he thinks these laws are great, but it's too early to determine their impact.
"We don't have official stats on that yet," Moreland said.
Both Moreland and Vogle said experience is the key to teen drivers becoming good drivers.
"Those who are just starting to drive need to realize this and pay total attention to their surroundings when driving," Moreland said.
Once their child obtains a license, parents should continue to be involved in their driving, Vogle said, adding generally there's a big difference between kids whose parents help them learn how to drive and those who don't.
"Once they start driving, there's not a lot of follow up by the parents. Parents need to ride with them once in a while or follow them (without their children knowing) when they're going somewhere and watch how they're driving," Vogle suggested.
Or practice driving in a deserted parking lot, working on stopping and starting the vehicle, Vogle suggested.
Parents and students should also keep in mind not everything can be taught in driver's education, Vogle said. For example, driver's education is taught in the summer, which means students can't work on driving in weather conditions like snow or ice, Vogle said. Those adjustments have to be made later, he said.
Regardless of how teens -- or parents, for that matter -- think they drive, Vogle said they must remember one important thing: "Just because you have the license doesn't mean you know how to drive."