NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – At age 16, Jason Widlacki made an adultlike decision. He chose to forgo getting his driver’s license because he felt that age was just too young to slide behind a wheel.

“There are a lot of distractions at that age,” says Jason, now 20 and a student at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

“Sixteen-year-olds are not safe drivers. They take more risks.”

Instead, Jason got his learner’s permit when he was 17, his regular one when he turned 18.

His sister Amber, 18, has taken the same road, waiting until this summer to get her license before she starts classes at CNU.

“I’ve just put it off,” says Amber, a student at Denbigh Baptist Christian School in Newport News.

Even though the majority of teens count the days until they can drive, Amber and her brother are among small numbers of young people who put if off.

“It’s not a major trend, but we’re starting to see more of it, mostly with girls,” says Mary Ann Rayment, program manager for the Community Traffic Safety Program sponsored by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

“They have buddies who are willing to take them, or they have experienced several crashes and are scared to do it.

“Or, it’s just not a part of their rite of passage.”

When Jason made that decision to drive when he was older, he was not alone in his theory that 16-year-olds are prone to more auto accidents.

Brain researchers at the National Institutes of Health say the part of the teen brain that weighs risks, makes judgments and controls impulsive behavior does not fully mature until age 25.

The research helps explain why younger drivers, especially 16-year-old ones, crash at rates far higher than older teens. Those findings were featured in a recent series of stories about road safety and young drivers in the USA Today newspaper.

Jason says his parents, Shirley and Timothy Widlacki of Newport News, did not influence his decision, nor have they tried to keep his sister from driving.

“We asked occasionally if they wanted to get their license, but we didn’t pressure them,” says their mother. “In fact, I was the last in my senior class to get my license.”

Sarah Makepeace of Newport News was all set to take behind-the-wheel training when she got into a car accident. Suddenly, she was no longer interested in driving.

“Mainly, traffic just stresses me out,” says the 18-year-old.

Most of her friends drive, so she catches rides with them. Plus, her mother Kathleen juggles her schedule to get Sarah where she needs to go.

“I really don’t go anywhere that much because I’m really a homebody,” says Sarah.

She knows soon she needs to get her driver’s license because it “does become a hassle trying to find a ride. But somehow it always works, so I don’t get too stressed about it.”

Sarah’s father, Michael, says it mystifies him that his daughter doesn’t care much about driving.

“I could hardly wait to get my license at that age,” he says.

Road fear or, mostly what careless drivers are doing on the highways keeps April Young, 18, from wanting to get her license. A senior at Menchville High School in Newport News, April says she’s been in a number of wrecks with her family, and those accidents were the fault of other drivers, she says.

“It just freaks me out, other peoples’ driving,” she says.

“I tried driving. It’s not that I don’t like it. I guess it’s just the fear of other people not paying attention and getting into a wreck with me.”

FOR TEENS AND PARENTS

NEW CHECKPOINTS PROGRAM

– The March issue of the American Journal of Public Health evaluates the effects of Checkpoints, a program where parents restrict newly licensed teens from driving under conditions considered unsafe for beginners driving at night, with other teens in the car, during bad weather and on high-speed roads. Statistics state these conditions are times when those teens are most likely to get into a car crash.

– Checkpoints is essentially a written agreement that parents and a teen sign. An educational video and periodic newsletters are part of the program, which is undergoing testing before it’s promoted to the public.

– The study reinforces how much parents influence the lives of their children, says Mary Ann Rayment, program manager for the Community Traffic Safety Program sponsored by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

– Visit nichd.nih.gov/new/releases/teens-driving.cfm.


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