Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Putting brakes on teen drivers

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Transport Minister Steven Joyce isn't letting the grass grow under his feet.

Here's a minister who's been appointed to Cabinet and is not afraid to use his warrant. The Safer Journeys policy package he announced this week is the Government's attempt to improve the odds of teenage drivers making it to adulthood.

The statistics back up what most of us know intuitively - that teenagers are a menace on the roads. Young drivers make up 16 per cent of all licensed drivers yet they're involved in around 38 per cent of all serious-injury crashes.

Young Kiwis have a fatality rate of 21 per 100,000 of population. Across the ditch in Australia, where many of the measures proposed by the Transport Minister are already in place, the fatality rate is 13 per 100,000 of population.

Critics say that the first two years of a newly licensed motorist's driving experience will always be the most dangerous, be they at 15 or 35.

But a study conducted by the University of Waikato and the Automobile Association, involving 72 teenage drivers at Taupo racetrack a couple of years ago, found that teenage brains are simply not developed enough to drive responsibly.

I can still remember that glorious feeling of being young and foolish. It's incredibly liberating to break free of the constraints of adulthood. There's no carping "what if?" voice inside your head and there is no comprehension of what could happen if your decisions go wrong. It's all about you and living in the moment.

But being behind the wheel of a car on our roads isn't the best place for living out those carefree years. Combine over-confidence with a lack of higher cognitive skills and you get the grim teenage crash statistics.

You've probably seen the footage of the funerals of young kids killed in horror road smashes.

That's sad enough, but when you see their bogan mates doing burnouts in the dead kids' "honour" as the cortege makes its way to the cemetery you realise that no amount of advertising or education - or even real-life examples of what happens when you make poor choices - will change the way some kids drive.

Legislation won't change these kids' attitudes - but at least it gives them, and us, one more year of grace before they're allowed to hit the roads.

- Herald on Sunday

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