While young drivers represent only about 13 percent of all licensed drivers on the road, according to the Federal Highway Administration, they are involved in a disproportionate number of vehicle crashes.
That trend was reflected last year in Clark County’s 36 fatal crashes, which killed 39 people. One-quarter of the drivers in those cases were under 25 years old.
Young drivers also accounted for nearly half of all the collisions in Clark County that resulted in serious injuries, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
“Driving is the most dangerous thing they’re going to do their whole life,” said Nikki Bisconer, owner of Driving 101 in Vancouver.
As an instructor, she wants students to pass the driving test, but more importantly she wants to shape safe, knowledgable young drivers. She has students purposely drive in the grass and navigate safely back to the roadway without swerving. They learn what to do if the hood of the car flies up while they’re driving, or if the brakes go to the floor.
It’s about giving her students real-life perspective on what it means to drive. That entails learning more than a checklist of things that will appear on the test. Driving requires 100 percent of a driver’s effort and attention, she said. Life is fragile, she said, particularly in the hands of two tons of metal barreling down the highway at 60 mph.
“How do we get that across to every single kid?” Bisconer said. “Some still get a DUI. We think ‘what did we miss?’ “
Lera Larue Crump, 18, of Washougal was under the influence of alcohol when she crashed north of Jemtegaard Middle School in Washougal on the night of June 18, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
On Halloween, Will McCulloch, 17, was driving an Acura Integra that crashed into a traffic pole on Northeast 136th Avenue in east Vancouver with enough force to split the car in two. He and his passenger, Shaun Hvass, 18, both Mountain View High School seniors, were found dead at the crash site and later determined to be impaired by alcohol, Vancouver police said. A makeshift memorial remains at the intersection.
“I don’t know how to get to those kids, but we get to quite a few of them,” Bisconer said.
Fewer teenagers are taking drivers education courses, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Bisconer said kids may find driver’s education too costly; they’ll wait to get their license when they turn 18 and are no longer required to take driver’s ed. She’s also noticed, however, that more of her classes have young adults, ages 18 to 20.
“They see the need and take it anyways,” she said.
An ongoing problem for her students, particularly older students, is finding someone willing to practice driving with them. Some adults are afraid unlicensed drivers will ding up their cars, Bisconer said. Others are unsure how to teach a young person to drive, making it difficult for students to get the required 50 hours of supervised practice.
“We still need to be taught. Everybody needs to be taught,” Bisconer said. “It’s not super easy. We don’t just know it.”