Because the Louthian Law Firm has handled South Carolina auto accident cases for nearly 50 years, unfortunately we’ve seen firsthand that younger drivers are more likely to make bad decisions out of inexperience. That’s why we were pleased to see that the South Carolina legislature is considering a bill that would require defensive driving courses for teens. Right now, South Carolina teens can get a conditional license at age 15 and a provisional one at 16, but they must pass a driver education course, pass a test and log at least 40 hours behind the wheel. The new law would require that they pass a defensive driving course as well, after Dec. 31 of this year.
If you’ve ever looked into car and truck accident statistics, you may know that younger drivers almost always have a higher rate of accidents than older ones. That’s why auto insurance rates are more expensive for younger drivers, and may explain why most car rental companies choose not to rent to drivers under age 25. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that tracks traffic deaths and injuries nationwide, drivers ages 15 to 20 were 6.3% of all licensed drivers in 2005, but accounted for 13.2% of fatal crashes in 2006.
It’s not always possible to understand the causes behind those statistics, but the NHTSA attributes it to inexperience and lack of emotional maturity — not physical immaturity. The study linked above shows that younger drivers involved in a serious crash were more likely to have a record of speeding, a moving violation or a suspended or revoked license. A full quarter of the young drivers killed in crashes were legally drunk, with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. Clearly, bad decisions play a part in the high rate of accidents involving teenaged drivers.
Teenagers may see this law as onerous, and indeed, there may be ways to combine these classes with conventional driver education courses. But given the high rate of avoidable teenaged driving deaths — and the devastating consequences of a car wreck — we think it’s a bill worth passing.