By Chief Lee Tramel, Knox County Sheriff’s Office
When I was 16-years-old, I remember thinking, “As long as I stay in my lane I can drive as fast as the road will allow.” This “no fear”, “too young to die” attitude is partly the reason that the number one killer for people between the ages of 15 and 20-years-old is due to auto accidents. Car crashes kill more than 5,000 teens each year. Inexperience, risk taking, and driver distraction are all contributing factors. Cell phone use, loud music, changing discs, as well as tuning the radio, are also potentially deadly distractions behind the wheel. When the teen driver has friends in the car, the risk is even higher. The more passengers, the greater the chance of a serious crash.
Common teen driver distractions that can be deadly
- Friend in another vehicle: Don’t let saying “hi” or other fun and games take your attention off the road. Never try to pass anything from one moving vehicle to another.
- Loud music or headphones: Hearing what’s going on around you is just as important as seeing what’s going on around you. It is extremely dangerous to wear headphones or earbuds and have the volume of your radio so high that you can’t hear traffic conditions, such as other vehicles warning horns or emergency sirens. In most states it is illegal to wear headphones or earbuds while driving.
- The “show off” factor: It may be tempting to go faster, turn sharper, or beat another car through an intersection. Many teens fail to realize they are no longer “competing for fun” and are now using a 3,000 to 5,000 pound “weapon” in this competition.
“…we still must strive to make sure our children have all the information they need, so we can protect them until they are old enough to protect themselves.”
Learner permits, restricted & unrestricted driver licenses
The Graduated Driver Licensing law places certain restrictions on teens under the age of 18 who have a learner permit and driver license. Anyone under the age of 18 must have his learner permit for a minimum of six months before applying for an intermediate restricted license. The minimum age for applying for an intermediate restricted license is 16-years-old. Those with an intermediate license can only have one other passenger in the vehicle UNLESS At least one passenger is 21-years-old or older and has a valid, unrestricted license; OR the passengers are brothers and sisters, step-brothers or step-sisters, or adopted or foster children residing in the same house as the driver, and the intermediate license holder has in his possession a letter from the driver’s parent authorizing passengers to be in the motor vehicle for the sole purpose of going to and from school.
Those with an Intermediate Restricted License are also prohibited from driving between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. UNLESS they meet the following circumstances:
- They are accompanied by a parent or guardian, or accompanied by a licensed driver 21-years-old or older who has been designated by the parent or guardian. This designation must be in writing and in the possession of the teen driver.
- They are driving to or from a specifically identified school-sponsored activity or event and have in their possession written permission from a parent or guardian to do this.
- They are driving to or from work and have in their possession written permission from the parent or guardian identifying the place of employment and authorizing the driver to go to and from work; or
- They are driving to or from hunting or fishing between 4:00 a.m.– 6:00 a.m. and have in their possession a valid hunting or fishing license.
- The Intermediate Restricted License must be held by the teen for a minimum period of one year before the teen can apply for an unrestricted Intermediate license.
IMPORTANT: A teen driver will be ineligible for an Unrestricted Intermediate License for an additional 90 days beyond the minimum one year if:
- The driver has received six or more points (the equivalent of two minor traffic citations) on their Intermediate Restricted License; or
- The driver has contributed to a traffic crash; or
- The driver has been convicted of a second seat belt violation.
- Also, if the teen driver gets a second moving violation while holding the Intermediate Restricted License, an approved Driver Education class must be completed before receiving an Intermediate Unrestricted License.
These laws are in place to help reduce teen driving accidents that can lead to serious injury or even death. The latest data shows promise that the programs in place are working, but we still must strive to make sure our children have all the information they need, so we can protect them until they are old enough to protect themselves.
Lee Tramel is the Assistant Chief Deputy for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. During his 26 year career, he also served in the civil warrants division and as Assistant Director of the Court Services Division. Lee is a Knoxville native, where he lives with his wife and 10 year old daughter.