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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN
Your Kid Behind the Wheel
Aired May 3, 2005 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, HOST: Good evening again. This year, four million girls and boys in the country will turn 16, which means millions of moms and dads will be very proud indeed when they're not worried sick.
Sixteen is when most young adults in most states become young drivers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teenagers are four times more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes. Motor vehicle accidents are, by a factor of three, the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 16 and 20.
Tonight, the stories behind those numbers, and some ways to turn those numbers around.
By the time most teens begin learning to drive, they've already learned in physics class that force equals mass times acceleration. Well, they should have learned that already.
Here's another law of physics just as important on the road: All other things being equal, a high center of gravity means a greater risk of tipping over. It is a simple fact. But not all lessons make it out of the classroom.
We begin tonight with CNN's Randi Kaye.
AMANDA VICKREY, SUV ROLLOVER SURVIVOR: I think I picked it because it was more durable and it was more girlie than a truck. And it was big, that's what I liked. It was real big and it wasn't low to the ground.
KANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A champagne colored 2001 Ford Explorer Sport, a gift from dad for Amanda Vickrey's 16th birthday. She couldn't wait to get behind the wheel. But just a year and a half after she got it, she almost died in it.
VICKREY: I just don't remember anything that was said. I just remember thinking, oh, God, oh God, I'm about to die, I'm about to die.
KAYE: It was a Thursday night last October, about 10:30 p.m. Amanda and a friend had been at a high school football game in Midland, Texas, about 15 miles from her hometown of Odessa.
On their way back, Amanda came up on something unexpected in the road. VICKREY: I thought it was a deer at first. Everybody makes fun of me because there's no deers in West Texas.
KAYE: It was a roll of carpet about 20 feet long, right in the middle of the highway.
Amanda swerved to avoid it, but the SUV spun out.
VICKREY: I remember trying to regain control. And then I just remember like feeling it start to roll, and then like a blur until we landed.
KAYE (on camera): So you were originally going this way?
KAYE: But then you overcorrected.
VICKREY: And flipped and turned and rolled and everything else. Ended up facing this way, yeah.
KAYE (voice-over): Amanda jerked the SUV from the right lane into the left lane, then back again. The SUV fishtailed, rolled twice, and landed right side up in the grassy median.
VICKREY: I just remember looking at my car, and it was just completely gone. Like when you turned around, it looked like there was nothing there. There was no windows. And the windshield was caved in a lot. So like you could touch it, and it was just real close to your face. And the radio was on, and it was blaring. I don't know how it happened, but it was on. My lights were on. And I just remember like hyperventilating, and I couldn't catch my breath. And I was in shock, and I started shaking.
KAYE: Amanda was trapped. Police used a crowbar to get her out. Her friend got out on his own, with just cuts on his knuckles. Amanda escaped with cuts, bruises and injured ribs.
(on camera): Just how lucky is Amanda to be alive? The latest federal government statistics, including all passenger vehicles, show in 2002, about one-quarter of the people killed in rollover crashes were driving SUVs. That's up 14 percent from the previous year.
(voice-over): That, even though in 2002, SUVs accounted for only one-eighth of vehicles on the road.
Just two days before the accident, Amanda started wearing her seatbelt. She never had before, but a driver safety presentation at school changed her mind.
VICKREY: If they wouldn't have came and talked to us, I don't think I would have had my seatbelt on. And it makes me think of, like, what could have happened. Like I could have went through the windshield or I could be dead, basically.
KAYE: It's been six months since Amanda's accident. She's back behind the wheel, a Ford Mustang this time. Dad said no to another SUV. He wanted something closer to the ground, with less rollover risk.
Amanda's spirit is renewed. Not a day goes by where she doesn't marvel at her brush with death and her good fortune.
But whatever went wrong on the road that October night wasn't enough to scare the SUV out of this high school senior.
VICKREY: I still wouldn't mind driving one, because I feel safer when I'm up tall and stuff.
KAYE: She hopes to be behind the wheel of another SUV some day soon.
Randi Kaye, CNN, Odessa, Texas.
BROWN: So what should a teen driver drive? One of our producers, a parent, of course, suggests a car without an engine.
For those willing to consider a car that will actually move, "Consumer Reports" magazine has come up with some recommendations. Nothing to make your heart skip a beat, which is probably the point.
The Honda Accord and the Subaru Forester come out on top. Also in the running, the Honda Civic, the VW Passat and the Buick Park Avenue.
More broadly speaking, the editors say too much horsepower is dangerous in young hands, but so, too, is too little. Look for zero to 60 between eight and 11 seconds. Look for advanced safety features and good results on government crash tests. Common sense. And to get a break on insurance, the editors recommend shopping for discontinued or not very popular models, the kind that thieves don't want to steal and kids don't want to race.
Sometimes stating the obvious helps. In this case, we think it does. Teenagers are not adults. Their bodies are different. So it turns out, are their minds. The fact that teens think differently explains a lot about why they don't act like adults, not in the classroom or at the mall, and certainly not when they get behind the wheel.
Here's medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a country road in the state of Maine, a teenage brain makes the wrong choice. A 16-year-old boy blows through a stop sign, and then leads police on a high-speed chase that reaches 120 miles an hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roll over. Roll over.
COHEN: We'll show you what happens next in a moment.
Now, obviously, this is an extreme case, but here's the question: What's going on in a teenager's brain that could lead to such a bad decision? Dr. Laurence Steinberg studies teens and decision-making.
LAURENCE STEINBERG, TEMPLE UNIV.: So there are changes in our brains around the time of puberty that make us want to take more risks, that make us want to seek higher and higher levels of stimulation.
COHEN (on camera): Their brains are just different from adult brains?
STEINBERG: Right. Their brains are changing.
COHEN (voice-over): New research from the National Institutes of Health shows teen brains have extra synapses in the areas responsible for assessing risks and making decisions. Many of these synapses are useless and actually get in the way of clear thinking. These extra synapses die off as teens become adults.
(on camera): So fewer synapses make things more efficient.
COHEN: And that's a good thing.
STEINBERG: That's a good thing. That's a very good thing.
COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Steinberg is trying to understand how teens like the one we saw in Maine make decisions. So he's developed a test.
STEINBERG: Let's start the game by hitting G.
COHEN: Seventeen-year-old Justin Sloan (ph) has to decide if he can make it through an intersection before the yellow light turns to red. When teens play this game without their friends watching, they actually perform quite well. But put other kids in the virtual car with them, and look what happens.
Alex Weinberg (ph) turned around and looked at his friends as he drove. Then he did it again and again. Three times, his friends diverted his attention. And -- he crashed.
Dr. Steinberg's studies have found teens are much more likely to be distracted than adults are.
(on camera): What's going on in this 16-year-old cerebral cortex right here?
STEINBERG: Let's hope it's developing.
COHEN (voice-over): As for that 16-year-old fleeing from police, he was lucky. He wasn't hurt. The teen didn't appear to be drunk or on drugs. He told the trooper he sped away simply because he didn't want to get a ticket.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you running for? You almost hit me head on!
COHEN: The decision of a 16-year-old driver with too many synapses cluttering his brain.
Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Philadelphia.
BROWN: So at this point, you might be furiously thinking of ways to keep your child from getting behind the wheel. Any (INAUDIBLE) wheel until she's, oh, let's say, 30 or 40.
Short of that, what's a worried parent to do? What's to prevent your teenager from making bad decisions on the road when you're not in the car? Some parents are taking drastic measures.
BROWN (voice-over): Keeping track of things is very important to John Jacobson.
JOHN JACOBSON, JOE'S DAD: This shows right here is right now in Columbus, North Carolina.
BROWN: And any time he has thousands of trucks out on the highway and with a satellite mapping system, he knows where each and every one is.
And that's not all he keeps track of.
JOHN JACOBSON: Hi, Joe just left school. He'll be home in just a little bit.
BROWN: Joe is his 16-year-old son.
Using a device called All-Track, John and his wife Trudy can track Joe's car's every move.
JOHN JACOBSON: If you can imagine an electronic fence around his school, around our house, and around a 15-mile radius from our house, those are the boundaries that we've set. Once his car crosses any of these boundaries, we get an automated call.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boundary. Fifth violation.
JOHN JACOBSON: We also have the ability to go on to the All- Track website. We can pull up Joe's car, get a location, get his speed, get the direction he's going. We can lock or unlock the car from home. We can shut the car on or off, and we have a speed limitation on the car also. If the car goes over a certain speed, we get an automated call.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On April 26th, 2005... BROWN: There are fans of this approach.
JOHN JACOBSON: I've never talked to anybody that didn't think this was a great idea.
TRUDY JACOBSON, JOE'S MOM: The adults.
JOHN JACOBSON: I'm talking adults.
BROWN: And it does have its critics.
JOE JACOBSON, SON: It's kind of a neat feature, but kind of a pain. Getting your license has a sense of freedom, I suppose, responsibility. It's just really a way to get out of having your parents on you all the time, and them questioning you constantly, why you are going here? What are you doing? And more of just, all right, we trust you, go do something.
T. JACOBSON: We've learned and are still learning to allow Joey the freedom to mature and make decisions on his own and make mistakes. But you know, when it comes to safety, when it comes to reading about statistics with teenage drivers dying, I don't -- I don't apologize for trying to be more controlling in that area for now.
BROWN: By tracking Joe, the Jacobsons hope it will teach him to think before he acts.
JOHN JACOBSON: I think it makes him a safer driver. It helps him make better decisions because hopefully, from time to time, when he -- before he makes a decision, he might say, what will mom and dad think of this decision that I'm making?
BROWN: It might be working.
JOE JACOBSON: When I'm in a hurry and I'm on the highways, more or less, and there's always that slow guy keeping you down, you just want to pass him. And you normally have to speed up a bit, and that's when I mostly really think about it.
BROWN: In the end, like so many other things in life, it's a trade-off.
T. JACOBSON: We don't want our son to die, and we don't want anyone else to. For us, it gives us the confidence that our son is safe.
JOE JACOBSON: Mom, I'm home!
BROWN: Later in the program, we'll talk with a man who spent the last 20 years trying to keep teenage drivers safe. He says there are other things parents can do, short of putting chips in their cars, other ways to decrease the odds that your child will be in a fatal accident. We'll hear his advice coming up tonight.
And straight ahead, making young drivers safer by teaching them to let it all hang out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: It only looks dangerous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't just take your child in the parking lot and show them defensive maneuvers.
BROWN: But it's helping teach kids to be safer drivers. Really, it is.
Taking lessons from a different country where the driving is fast and the learning ain't easy.
How many of those tests did you pass?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I don't remember, like, 20. Then did I them all over again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty out of 60, that's not very good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to fail this class.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know.
BROWN: Does the home of the Autobahn have the right answer?
Also tonight, a Cinderella story.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't drive between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. I wasn't going to anyway because I'm sleeping.
BROWN: A driver's license with limits. Should teens work their way up to full driving privileges?
And young or old, now and forever, our love affair with the automobile, in stills. Because this is NEWSNIGHT.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS: I'm Erica Hill. Here's the latest now, from Headline News.
The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff has told Congress the continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may affect the military's ability to do battle on other fronts. A senior Pentagon official tells CNN General Richard Myers made that assessment in a classified report, but just last week President Bush said that Pentagon officials told him the military is prepared for any confrontation.
Iraq has a new prime minister. Ibrahim al Jaafari was sworn in today as were members of the new cabinet. But this historic day was marred by the continuing violence, at least 18 people were killed.
And, back stateside, the Air Force will investigate allegations of religious intolerance at its academy in Colorado. This follows a report by a Washington-based group that details what it says are dozens of complaints by Jewish cadets and Christian cadets who are not evangelical Christians. They claim there's an atmosphere of intimidation on the part of some evangelical students and staff members.
And, that is the latest from Headline News. NEWSNIGHT continues right after this break.
BROWN: Remember Driver's Ed in high school? Have a little trouble parallel parking, did you? Some things never change. Others do. In this case, big time: Driver's Ed. Not your dad's, not your mom's, not even yours. From Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight, here's CNN's Sharon Collins.
SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Elizabeth Graper is leaving school early. It is one of those red letter days on any teenager's calendar, Elizabeth is on her way to take her driving test. She hopes to get her license today.
ELIZABETH GRAPER, TEEN DRIVER: A little nervous. But a lot of my friends have already done it.
COLLINS: Elizabeth took Driver's Ed at her high school, and she spent time driving with her mom at her side.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lizzie, you need to pay attention, honey.
GRAPER: It's 25.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, and how fast are you going?
COLLINS: But Elizabeth also did a little something extra. Something that would ordinarily horrify any parent.
GRAPER: That's what you do!
COLLINS: It's called "Xtreme Measures," a new breed of driving schools springing up around the country. Today's class is held at a race track in Charlotte, North Carolina. Karl Kutcher started Extreme Measures six years ago after an accident that still haunts him today.
CARL KIRCHER, XTREME MEASURES: One of my older daughter's best friends got killed. She got two wheels off the side of the road, over-corrected, hit a tree. And I knew right then that there had to be something that I could do that was going to help you guys get through. Get the car to slide. Get it to slide. Get it to slide.
COLLINS; Kricher has worked around auto racing all of his life. His classes apply lessons learned on the racetrack to emergencies encountered in everyday driving situations. KIRCHER: You can't just take your child in a parking lot and show them defensive maneuvers, car control maneuvers as they did when I grew up. You can't do that anymore. So we provide them a place to learn how to do that at our expense in an oops-free environment so that they can learn what we've learn over 30 years of driving.
COLLINS: The teens practice recovering from skids. Handling the car when it runs off the road. And avoiding obstacles. His course is not a replacement for the basics of driver's ed, but it does teach students skills they wouldn't learn in a typical course.
SHARON GRAPER, ELIZABETH GRAPER'S MOTHER: I felt like I wanted Elizabeth to have some experience in extreme conditions so that she would know what to do if she was in that circumstance.
COLLINS: After a day of driving on the Xtreme course, Elizabeth felt pretty good about what she'd learned.
(on camera): So you think you got it down?
ELIZABETH GRAPER: Yes.
COLLINS (voice-over): But would it help her get a license? After her driving test, she feels pretty confident.
(on camera): How did you do?
ELIZABETH GRAPER: I think I did OK.
COLLINS: Did you? Well, good.
(voice-over): But the news is disappointing.
ELIZABETH GRAPER: I didn't get it.
COLLINS: Twice Elizabeth turned into the wrong lane. A relatively minor mistake, but one that could easily cause an accident. And a reminder of how even the best prepared teenager won't always make the right call.
Sharon Collins, CNN, Charlotte, North Carolina.
BROWN: So lets talk about some ways that we all can improve the odds that our kids will make smart decisions behind the wheel. And perhaps ways the states around the country can help us.
We're joined by Bill Bronrott, a delegate at the Maryland legislature, who spent two decades trying to keep teen drivers safe. Nice to see you.
Generally, are states smarter about this than they were five years ago?
WILLIAM A. BRONROTT (D), MARYLAND STATE DELEGATE: The states are coming along, but far too slow a pace. We need parents to get involved in giving our kids more behind the wheel experience with fewer distractions. And one thing parents can do as voters and as community activists is to product states to pass strong comprehensive, what are called graduated drivers licensing laws. That, again, give our kids more behind the wheel experience with fewer distractions and phase in the full driving privilege.
BROWN: And what those generally -- I mean, here in New York, there's a series of things that happen and in Maryland and other places too, I gather. How many kids can be in the car. Because there's a tremendous relationship between the number of kids in the car and the likelihood of an accident for one thing.
BRONROTT: Absolutely. We know that with each passenger in the car with a young driver, the chance of a fatal crash nearly doubles. And so that's why we're asking parents to get involved in this. And in the meantime until states take this important action, they can lay down the law in their own households by telling their teens no other teen passengers or limiting it to no more than one. And also to restrict any cell phone use during the learner's permit phase, during the provisional license phase. Also spend more time behind -- more time with their teen during the learner's permit period to give their kids more behind the wheel practice time. And to give them a chance to experience driving at night and during different types of weather conditions.
BROWN: Some of this stuff, to me -- and I claim no objectivity here. I'm the father of a 16-year-old -- are slam dunk obvious. Not talking on a cell phone. I mean, we know that adults, experienced drivers talking on a cell phone, have high rate of accidents. Why not -- where's the resistance to just passing a law that says between the ages of 16 and fill in the blank you can't talk on a cell phone while you're driving?
BRONROTT: A number of these laws have been trying to make their way through state legislatures, and there's been a lot of resistance to that. But I think there's a certain amount of sympathy when it comes to our least experienced drivers, because highway crashes are the number one cause of death and disabling injury of teens. They make up only about 7 percent of licensed drivers, but they're involved in 14 percent of fatal crashes. And so there's this disproportionate over involvement that is very easy to focus on. And with this new research talking about the so-called immature brain, I think that there's a lot more political will to pass these kinds of strong graduated driver's licensing laws that includes the cell phone restriction. That's what we did in Maryland this year.
BROWN: Back -- I'm sorry, back in ancient times when I was 15, the state of Minnesota was discussing whether to raise the driving age to 16. And the battle essentially came down to the city and the rural areas. Rural areas wanted a younger driving age than I think city legislators did, by and large. Is that still the case?
BRONROTT: Well, I think it's still an issue. But a lot of parents say to me in Maryland, in a very suburban area outside of Washington, D.C. raise the driving age to 18. And the plain answer is, it already is 18. And that's the way it is in many states. It's only when a parent decides perhaps under duress to sign on the dotted line to allow their 15 half or 16-year-old to go after that learner's permit that their young teenager can do that. They can delay by simply saying no for a year or two, and let their child gain more maturity and use their own power to phase in the full driving privilege.
BROWN: Oh, if it were so easy. Thank you. It's good to talk to you. Thank you for your work on this.
BRONROTT: My pleasure. Thank you, Aaron.
BROWN: In a moment, we'll have more on the graduated licenses that Mr. Bronrott has been talking about. A look at a young driver in a state where the laws are among the toughest in the country.
And what can we learn from driver's ed in a country that allows drivers to cruise along at over 100 miles an hour. The Germans have a better idea. We'll take a break first. From New York, and on the interstate, this is NEWSNIGHT.
BROWN: The good thing about being young and inexperienced is it doesn't last forever. The bad thing is, you have to survive it.
In recognition as we've been talking about tonight, slowly but surely, states have made it so very few teenagers can go straight from 16 candles to four on the floor. The journey now more and more takes time. And it comes with a catch, sometimes more than one. Reporting for us tonight, here's CNN's Alina Cho.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sarah Davie is a new driver.
SARAH DAVIE, TEENAGE DRIVER: I love driving. It's amazing.
CHO: After six months of a learner's permit, where she could only drive with an adult in the car, Sarah at age 17 now has a license, but only a provisional one.
First, there's a curfew.
S. DAVIE: I can't drive between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. I wasn't going to anyway because I'm sleeping.
CHO: The so-called Cinderella license also prohibits Sarah from driving with more than one friend in the car, something her dad thinks is an excellent idea.
KEN DAVIE, SARAH'S FATHER: When you have three or four friends, then the natural tendency to talk to someone, is to go like this, go like that, and that could be a little distracting.
CHO: Mom worries that Sarah still has a lot to learn.
EDNA DAVIE, SARAH'S MOTHER: She's brand new, brand new at it. And so her senses aren't tuned.
CHO (on camera): Graduated licensing programs which put restrictions on teen drivers have become the norm across the U.S. Maryland adopted the first such program in 1979, and, since then, 47 states have followed.
(voice-over): New Jersey is among the strictest. One of only a handful of states that requires teens, like Sarah, to wait until their 18th birthday to get an unrestricted license, and even then, only if they have a clean driving record.
The National Safety Council says the graduated licensing program is having an impact, that teen crash rates in states with tough teen licensing laws have declined by as much as 60 percent. Another finding -- that real enforcement begins in the home.
K. DAVIE: You just can't let the kid -- let the child just have the license and then just go carte blanche and just go from there. You have to have a certain type of restriction on them in order for them to be able to learn responsibility themselves.
CHO: In the Davie household, Sarah's curfew is 11:30, a half hour earlier than New Jersey's.
E. DAVIE: So the number of times that she goes out and comes back all in one piece with no scratches or dents, the more we trust her.
CHO: Her parents admit Sarah's ability to drive on her own with her busy schedule is convenient.
K. DAVIE: I can sleep a little bit later.
CHO: She studies dance and theater. She's also captain of the boys soccer team.
When she gets her unrestricted license, her parents say they'll give her a little more freedom.
The whole family agrees driving...
S. DAVIE: (INAUDIBLE).
CHO: ... is a privilege, not a right.
Alina Cho, CNN, Carnie (ph), New Jersey.
BROWN: We turn now to a simple question: Does how and where you learn to drive make a difference? If an American teenager were to learn to drive in another country, where the rules are different, what kind of driver would he or she be? We wondered, and our wondering took us to Germany. Here's CNN's Chris Burns.
CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eighteen-year-old Alan Look, an American born in Berlin, takes the hot seat, going through a German meat grinder, driving school.
This is only one of at least 40 required hours behind the wheel at this school, (INAUDIBLE). Plus, 14 hours of theory classes, eight hours of first aid classes, and all those signs to remember.
While most Americans get a driver's license at age 16, Germans must wait until they're 18. That, along with tougher driving instruction, contributes to safer driving and less bloodshed on German roadways. The traffic death rate here is about half of what it is in the United States. Consider that Germany's freeways, or autobahns, have no speed limit, and the statistic is even more remarkable.
(on camera): First time on the autobahn, Alan?
ALAN LOOK, DRIVING STUDENT: Second time.
BURNS: How does it feel, though?
LOOK: Well, I have to say the first time I was pretty nervous, but now it's -- I'm getting more used to it. It doesn't even seem that fast.
BURNS: Wait until you have to go about 180 miles an hour.
(voice-over): Alan also has 60 practice tests to bone up for the written exam.
(on camera): Look at number 30 here. Are you allowed to overtake the black car on this autobahn on the right?
LOOK: No, in Germany, you are not allowed to overtake any cars on the autobahn from the right.
BURNS (voice-over): Rules, rules, rules. It's enough to make you scream.
It's no cakewalk either for 18-year-old German Antonia Brosch. She got her California driver's license when she was 16. Now she's going for the German one.
ANTONIA BROSCH, DRIVING STUDENT: We have to learn how long it will take us to stop if we're like 100 kilometers an hour, or we have to know how long it takes us to react when we're driving like 16 kilometers an hour. Or -- and we have to know how much weight you can put on your car.
BURNS (on camera): How many of those tests did you pass?
BROSCH: Oh, I don't remember. Like 20. And then I did them all over again... BURNS: Twenty out of 60, that's not very good.
BROSCH: No, I know.
BURNS: You're going to fail this class.
BROSCH: I know.
BURNS (voice-over): Night driving is also required instruction here in Germany. What's more, driving school here can run into the thousands of dollars.
(on camera): You don't think it's really worth the money?
BROSCH: No. I would like to pay $350 like I did in America.
BURNS (voice-over): So getting a driver's license in Germany is much tougher than in the U.S., on several counts. Not only is the minimum driving age 18, but driving school includes up to 24 hours of theory, plus about 40 hours of driving instruction, including four hours on the freeway and three at night. There's also an eight-hour first aid course. And the classes are only offered in privately run driving schools that can cost thousands of dollars.
But if the traffic death rate here is any indication, driving school that's more like a college course and tougher rules seem to be producing results, helping teens like Alan and Antonia become better drivers, eventually.
Chris Burns, CNN, Berlin.
BROWN: Still ahead on NEWSNIGHT, making sure teens don't drive drunk. One teenager's life-saving solution, and how she got it off the ground.
Also ahead, we switch gears to the other side of driving. The sheer joy it brings when you're 16. We'll take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT.
BROWN: Nearly two years ago Mallory Jones experienced something that high schoolers should never experience, but unfortunately, too many of them do. A friend was out drinking, got behind the wheel of a pickup truck and died when he crashed into a tree. She and two friends then started a designated driver program for kids at Gulfport High School in Mississippi. Mallory joins us. Nice to see you.
MALLORY JONES, FNDR DESIGNATED DRIVER SERVICE: Thanks.
BROWN: Is it simply not practical, even after you have this terrible experience, to say to kids, just don't drink?
JONES: I would say it is, yes. Drinking is not necessarily something that is new. I think it's been going on throughout the ages.
BROWN: Oh, I can assure you of that. Yes. So they're going to drink, even -- and so, you're -- as you approach this and as you talk to teachers and adults, you said we need to do something that acknowledges that they're going to drink?
JONES: Exactly. I went to a teacher sponsor, Coach Campbell, who was wonderful and encouraging us to do this and helping us with the legalities of the situation, and we've had an enormously positive response to the program.
BROWN: Let's talk about how it works. Kids are out at a party and they're drinking.
BROWN: What happens?
JONES: Well, the program runs from 8:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., and two volunteer teenagers are on call, and they have a cell phone that we've designated and all the student body knows the number, and they can call and confidentially get a ride home. It has worked out really well.
BROWN: And I have two questions about that. Is it the same kids every weekend who are the designated drivers?
JONES: We have 30 volunteers. So, it's split up pretty fairly.
BROWN: And are they considered, like, the town geeks or not?
JONES: No. Not at all. They're kids from every group, kids of all different kinds, so...
BROWN: Every parent, or most every parent, I think, will say to their kid at some point, look, I'm not going to be happy if you're drinking, but I don't want you driving, because I don't want you dead, so call me. That doesn't work.
JONES: Right. I think it's unrealistic to ask kids to call their parents, because even if a parent is not -- says that they're going to be okay with it and that it's OK to call them, typically you're going to get a lecture, you're going to get -- maybe some form of punishment, even. So, I don't think kids -- and I don't hink anybody wants their parents showing up at a party saying, hey, we're here to pick you up.
BROWN: So, where are the kids dropped off then?
JONES: At a house.
BROWN: At a house or at their house?
JONES: Right. Typically at their house. There have been situations where they might be staying with fraend.
BROWN: But their parents aren't told.
JONES: No. It's confidential. Their parents are not told that this service picked them up.
BROWN: So the parents might not know they were drinking?
JONES: No, sir.
BROWN: Does that bother you at all? Maybe I should ask your dad if that bothers him.
JONES: It doesn't bother me because the way for teenagers to respond to a program like this, you can't let them think that in any way their parents are going to find out what they've been doing because, our policy is that we don't condone or condemn underage drinking, and really, this program doesn't deal with underage drinking. It deals with drinking and driving, because there are other programs like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Students Against Drunk Driving, that deal with underage drinking.
BROWN: You're just trying to get them home.
JONES: Right. We just don't want them driving.
BROWN: Are there costs involved here?
JONES: It is relatively a low-cost organization, because the only thing you mainly have to pay for is the cell phone. So, but, to honor the businesses who have so graciously donated money, our program is called Businesses United to Save Youth.
BROWN: So, you call businesses, you say we need $39 a month or whatever it is for the cell phone?
JONES: Yes. Well, we just went out at the beginning and asked for donations, and we had a good response to that. And we haven't really had to go any further with it, because the cost of the cell phone is not that expensive. It is about $50 a month, ours is.
BROWN: Do people know you're doing this, outside of your town and your high school?
JONES: We had a lady from California that called after seeing the article in "People," and she's going to set up a website for us, so that's really exciting.
BROWN: It's a terrific idea. As a parent -- and I think in truth I want to know if my kid's been drinking -- but I hear what you're saying.
JONES: But the kids don't want you to know that they've been drinking.
BROWN: Well, among other things they don't want me to know. You think you've saved a life? JOENS: You know, even if we prevent someone from getting a DUI or prevented somebody from getting into an accident or just, you know, it's not a good situation to be in at all, I don't think. So maybe we've saved a life.
BROWN: Nice going.
JONES: Thank you.
BROWN: Nice going. You know, people all the time saying these kids today this and these kids today that. You did great.
BROWN: Nicely done.
JONES: And so did all the volunteers that helped me, too. Because it was a team effort.
BROWN: Nicely done. Thanks for coming in tonight.
Ahead on the program, the romance of driving. We'll take a break first, from New York. This is NEWSNIGHT.
HILL: I'm Erica Hill. Here's the latest at this hour from Headline News.
The man accused of being the BTK serial killer sat in silence at a Wichita, Kansas, courtroom as the judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. The trial date for Dennis Raider is set for June 27th. He was arrested earlier this year and charged with 10 murders, some committed 30 years ago.
Prosecutors in the Michael Jackson trial are expected to wrap up their case tomorrow. Then the defense takes over. Jackson's attorneys are expected to call actor Macaulay Culkin as one of their first witnesses. Culkin denies old allegations that Jackson sexually abused him.
And former president Bill Clinton is joining the fight against obesity amongst children. His foundation is launching a program to improve the quality of food in school cafeterias and in restaurants. He also says children need to be more physically active both in and out of school.
That's a look at the headlines. We'll return to NEWSNIGHT after the break. But first, a look for you at the day on Wall Street.
BROWN: Well, so far we've devoted the better part of the hour to the perils of driving. Now a bit on the joy, a bit on the freedom, and a whole lot on the nostalgia and the chrome. Cindy Lewis is a photographer with a love for the automobile that is matched only by our love for still photos.
CINDY LEWIS, AUTHOR, "ROADSIDE AMERICA": America definitely has a love affair for cars. I mean, after all, this country was founded on the premise of freedom, and what better expression of freedom than the automobile?
Cars define us. Cars show our position in life, our wealth or lack thereof. Our idea of what is cool, what is hip, what is unique about the particular person driving it.
I can think of no greater influence on American culture than the automobile. Orson Welles made a prophetic statement. He spoke about automobiles, and he said something to the effect that they will alter war, they will alter peace, and they will change men's minds in subtle ways.
And what a statement, how true it has become. We've all been changed by the automobile.
We remember the first car we learned to drive in. We remember the car we dated in. We remember the car we were married in, and the car we brought our first child home from the hospital in. We define our lives by the automobile.
The evolution of the automobile was initially deemed as the devil's work by religious entities in America. No longer were couples courting in the parlor under the watchful eye of mom and dad. They had a living room on wheels, and they were hitting the road. And mom and dad could not watch. It changed everything.
I'm sure everyone has experienced the transforming power of a two-lane road driving through the sunset. What could be better? I know for myself, when I was learning to drive, the automobile was my ticket to ride.
As long as I had four wheels, a full tank of gas, anything was possible.
BROWN: A new feature tonight. A new way of looking at the news. But we'll take a break first.
BROWN: This week, we begin a new feature which may grow into a tradition, one that springs from an age-old premise, the making of a story can be just as interesting as the telling of it. So, too, are the impressions and the perspectives a correspondent gathers along the way. So a few of each now. We'll call the segment "Newsbeat." And tonight, CNN's Elizabeth Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: We went out driving with a teenager, a young girl named Tanesia Gallett (ph), who had never driven before. She was very confident, she got behind the wheel, she drove on the highway, she drove on the sidestreet, but she really wasn't scared. And apparently that's part of what a teen's brain is all about. They don't have the same kind of fear that adults do.
Teens are different from adults for some really basic physiological decisions. Their brains are simply different. They are wired differently. And we're not sure that everybody realizes that. So we wanted to share that with people.
This story is important because car accidents are a leading cause of death for teenagers. And so it's important to figure out how do we make teen drivers better.
There is an interesting intersection between science and public policy. States have to decide how are they going to regulate teen driving, and really, they can look at the science to help them make rules.
BROWN: CNN's Elizabeth Cohen. Good to have you with us tonight. We'll see you again tomorrow, 10:00 Eastern time. Until then, good night for all of us at NEWSNIGHT.
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