Risky Roads: Teen Driving in the Lake Area

February 7, 2007

Reported by: Britney Glaser

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among teenagers in the United States, and Louisiana teens are a large part of this statistic, ranking as the fifth worst state in the country for teen driving fatalities.

Drivers ages 16 to 20 make up only six percent of the driving population, yet 20 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes come from this age group.  What's contributing to this statistic?  Lake Area teens tell 7News is boils down to numerous distractions.

17-year-old Jordan Marcantel says she feels comfortable on the roadways, but that "cell phones ringing, people talking," are two things that keep her eyes or attention off the center line.

Heath Henry is 15 years old and is planning on registering for the upcoming Driver's Education Course at Parkview Driving Academy in Sulphur.  He says that people walking alongside the road or loud music could distract him behind the wheel.

20-year-old Jordan Waldmeier did not receive his license until he turned 18.  He said that he was not ready to drive at a younger age and that although he does feel safe behind the wheel now, there are still distractions he faces each day.  "Cell phones, cigarettes, food," says Waldmeier can all be major distractions inside a vehicle.

In a recent national teen survey, 93 percent of the 6,000 high school students surveyed said they are distracted when driving or have been in the car with a distracted driver.  The fatality rate for teen drivers based on miles driven is four times that of drivers ages 25-69.

Cathy Gauthreaux has been teaching Driver's Ed. for 12 years at Parkview Driving Academy.  She says that one of her goals in each class is to educate the students about the reality of the driving statistics.  Gauthreaux says, "Driving at 60 miles-per-hour, if you look away to turn the radio station for two seconds, you are going to travel about 170 feet."

In 1998, a law was enacted called the Ryan Act, which requires the state to implement a graduated licensing program.  Louisiana State Trooper, Sal Messina with the State Police says, "There's three different levels on the driver's license, as opposed to in the past at 15, you could get the full license."

The three levels include driving at 15 years of age only with a licensed adult, driving at 16 after completing a level one license and passing a signs and written test, and at 17 year of age, a 6-hour pre-licensing course is required to legally drive.  Trooper Messina says parental supervision is a necessity for young drivers.

Jannette Henry is the mother of 15-year-old Heath, who will be behind the wheel within a few months.  She says, "I'm going to make sure I'm with him for a while...for a long time!"

Once parents do allow their teen to drive solo, they need to make sure their young driver knows that they are still paying close attention to the skills at the wheel.  Henry says, "When he does start driving, I'm going to put on the back of the bumper 'How Am I Driving' and my e-mail address and my phone number."

If you are interesting in reading the reports on teen driving, go to: