Olivia Dulany, 15 1/2, Washington, has only had her driver’s permit for a few weeks now, but she’s eager to get out on the road as often as she can talk her parents into taking her for practice.
Missouri’s Graduated Drivers License law, which is a three-step licensing system for drivers ages 15 to 18, requires new drivers receive a minimum 40 hours of supervised driving (including 10 hours at night) during the permit phase.
But Deana Tucker Dothage, director of First Impact, an evidence-based traffic study program that educates parents about Missouri’s GDL law, recommends that teens have 100 hours of supervised driving during the permit phase.
The reason for that is simple: Traffic crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens, and one of the leading causes of those crashes is inexperience.
“Risk is the highest for teens during the first 30 to 90 days of independent driving, remains high through the first year of licensure and continues until their early- to mid-20s,” said Dothage.
The crash rates for drivers ages 15 to 19 are higher than for any other age group, according to statistics compiled by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MO-DOT) and gleaned from Missouri State Highway Patrol crash reports.
In 2014 in Missouri, a teen was injured in a traffic crash every 1 1/2 hours and every hour one person was killed or injured in a crash involving a teen driver.
It’s those kinds of statistics that led to First Impact being developed and launched in May 2016, said Dothage, noting the goal of the program is to reduce the number of motor vehicle fatalities, injuries and crashes among teen drivers by increasing parental awareness and enforcement of the GDL law.
First Impact is funded by MO-DOT, Traffic and Highway Safety Division in partnership with the University of Missouri School of Medicine, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. It also is supported by Arrive Alive, Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety and Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“We are a program of ThinkFirst Missouri, which has been around since 1979. It’s an injury prevention group funded by MO-DOT,” said Dothage. “MO-DOT looked at teen fatalities in Missouri, and said, ‘We’re still having teen fatalities. We love ThinkFirst, which speaks to teens, but now want a program in addition to that that speaks to parents.’ ”
First Impact does that through free 90-minute programs led by law enforcement officers who explain in detail the rules of Missouri’s GDL law so that parents understand it, and trained civilians, who share statistics and information from a parent’s perspective.
Parents of teens age 14 to 19 are the target audience of these First Impact programs, and they are encouraged to bring their teen with them.
Most Parents Are Unfamiliar With GDL Law
Missouri has had a Graduated Drivers License law since 2001, said Dothage, but in her experience, very few parents know much about it and even fewer understand it well.
“The kids are studying the driver’s guide before they take their permit test, and there is information about the GDL law in there, so, yes, kids know about it, but parents don’t,” she said. “So that is why we have this class.
First Impact has four objectives:
1. To educate parents about the teen driving risks.
Teens ages 15 to 19 have the highest crash rate and the first year of independent driving is where you see the most teen fatalities.
2. To fully explain to parents so they understand how Missouri’s GDL law works.
The law has been a proven tool for reducing teen crashes by 20 to 40 percent, but it can be confusing for parents who didn’t get their license under the three-stage system.
“One of the big things the GDL law requires is 40 hours of supervised driving during the permit phase,” said Dothage. “When you go in to take the test for the intermediate license, a parent has to sign a form saying they supervised and observed those 40 hours.
“Well, First Impact recommends 100 hours of supervised driving, because we know the cause of crashes is inexperience, a big part of it anyway. So those extra hours help to overcome the risk of the inexperience.”
Teens Should Practice in All Driving Conditions
3. The third objective is monitoring and enforcing the GDL law.
“One of the things we talk about in our risk and strategies, and GDL monitoring and enforcement, is when your child has that permit, they need to drive in all conditions — all weather conditions, all roadway conditions, and all time of day conditions,” said Dothage, who happens to have a teen learning to drive right now.
“I’m living my word. So he drives on gravel roads, two-lane county roads, interstate, merging . . . ,” all of those scary scenarios that parents may naturally shy away from wanting their young drivers to try.
“You don’t want them to experience any of that for the first time by themselves,” said Dothage. “They are likely to do better when you are sitting there coaching them.
“If you get into a situation where your child isn’t ready to drive or doesn’t want to drive, then our strategy is to have them in the passenger seat coaching you, telling you what to do. That is almost as good as training, because they have to think about what they should do,” Dothage explained.
First Impact outlines the reasons for its recommendations to parents, backing them up with statistics:
The GDL law says teens cannot be on the road between 1 and 5 a.m., but First Impact says best practice is not after 10 p.m., “because most crashes occur at night,” said Dothage. “Some happen in the early morning. Another prime time is right after school; 2 to 4 p.m. is a high crash risk rate from drowsy driving.”
Teen crashes that happen at nighttime are more a result of distracted driving, said Dothage. That can be distraction from a phone, other passengers or anything.
Be a Good Role Model
4. The fourth objective of the First Impact program is for parents to be good role models when they are driving.
“Research shows that teens mimic their parents’ behavior. So part of our program says to parents, ‘Don’t talk on the phone and drive; don’t text and drive; don’t drink and drive; wear your seat belt, because if you do all of those things when you’re driving, your child has a better chance of doing all of that too,” said Dothage.
Since October, First Impact has held more than 76 programs around the state and reached more than 1,133 people. Dothage’s goal is to have the program offered in every county around the state and on an ongoing basis.
A First Impact program will be held this Saturday, Aug. 12, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the Wentzville Police Department.
In Franklin County, a program will be held Thursday, Oct. 19, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Washington High School. The program is open to the public, not just parents of students who attend WHS.
All First Impact programs are free of charge, but people are asked to register so that enough materials will be on hand.
People can register through Facebook at First Impact MO (click on “going”), by emailing Dothage at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at 573-884-3463.
Each First Impact program will include a PowerPoint presentation that goes over everything included in the parent guide that is handed out for parents to take home. Parents also receive a Road Wise Parent/Teen Driving Guide.
About 30 minutes of the program is focused on explaining the GDL law, and time is allowed for questions and answers regarding the law, Dothage noted.
The presentation includes a six-minute video that features the story of a teenage driver who was killed about 10 years ago as a result of distracted driving, likely reaching for her phone to answer an incoming call.
The video also is available on the First Impact website, https://firstimpact.missouri.edu/.
Dothage is reaching out to high schools around Franklin County to schedule First Impact programs for parents in their area, but educators and administrators are welcome to contact her to set up a date.
The response from parents who attend the programs has been extremely positive and strong, said Dothage.
“Parents love it. They walk away saying, ‘I did not know that! I’m so glad I came to this! You need to do it at this school or that school.’ I’ve never had a parent walk away saying it was boring or a waste of their time,” she said.
Schools welcome the program too, since it doesn’t cost anything for the school or the parents.
Dothage also gives presentations to civic groups like Rotary or any club that may be looking for a guest speaker. She does it to familiarize people with the program to encourage parents to attend and to become trained to lead it.
The First Impact’s website also has information on how to become a GDL coach for anyone interested in leading the parent programs in their communities. For more information, people can contact Dothage by email at email@example.com or by phone at 573-884-3463.
Wants to Take Program Nationwide
It’s been a little more than a year since First Impact held its first parent program, but plans are underway to try to replicate it in states across the country.
“Through ThinkFirst National, we are leading a national initiative to replicate this in other states,” said Dothage, noting she’s already met with people from Illinois to do just that.
For more information on First Impact, go to http://firstimpact.missouri.edu.