According to a Victorian study 60 percent of young drivers are involved in a crash within five years of obtaining their licence. In 2005 the crash rate for young drivers was 43 percent. Unless Victorian youth are atypical these figures are probably representative Australia-wide.
I should probably consider myself lucky then that none of my three children – all of whom have been driving for more than five years – has ever crashed or been a passenger in a crashed car. But the kids do frequently speak of friends and acquaintances who have pranged their cars, some quite seriously.
This all rather strange. Back when I first started driving I would have been mortified to have crashed a car; everyone who found out would have ridiculed me mercilessly, this because crashing a car was seen, and in most circumstances rightly so, as a sign of driving incompetence. This doesn't mean I was a law-abiding driver: I got my fair share of speeding fines, as did my friends. So just like today's young drivers we too hooned around, speeding and doing burnouts but managed to stay out of accidents – thinking back on it I can recall only one person involved in a serious smash, a young female who drove off the side of a bridge in the middle of the night.
Fear of ridicule was not the only thing that kept us from crashing cars, however. For one thing, most young Texas drivers back then formally learned to drive through their high school's driver education program. Learning to drive was a shared experience: we spent hours learner driving with an instructor and two other students in the car. Thus a class of mostly 14 and 15 year-olds was taught to drive responsibly, with a commitment to group safety (imagine the chaos on Australian roads if 14 year-olds were allowed to drive).
Responsibility is perhaps the key ingredient. Back then excuse making wasn't yet in vogue; anyone making a bad decision had to suffer the consequences without resorting to today's all purpose cop out, bad parenting. This applied across the board. Do something stupid at school and the deputy principal couldn't care less how much your father drank or if your mother neglected you; you had to wear it. Not so today.
It's no wonder then that young people, after having been absolved of responsibility for their actions throughout their childhoods, are irresponsible drivers.