Supervised peril beats unsupervised peril

USA Today has an interesting, if not surprising, story on teen driving fatalities between 3pm and 5pm on weekdays. I say not surprising because teens are getting out of school at that time and don’t have much driving experience. Sometimes, statistics simply present the obvious. However, the story contains one useful quote that I think is much more universal than in the exclusive context of teen driving. It comes from a mother whose son died in a traffic accident in 1999.

[Kathryn] Orosz says she had such rules for her son: “I had Michael sign a contract that he would not have his friends in the car, he would not drive after dark.”

In the end, though, the rules were not enough. “Parents need to not just say this,” she says. “They need to get in the car and drive with the kids, monitor them. You don’t want to just throw them in a car. You need to be teaching them. They need … to gain experience.”

She offers sound advice for driving, but it could just as easily be applied to drinking, for example. We believe in a training period for driving, which clearly involves a risk of negative externalities on society, but abstinence is the only allegedly justifiable policy for drinking. Why? Drinking problems for teens and young adults (including those barely 21) can involve those same negatives, but more likely the impact will be on the individual only. Is the risk to society greater for an inexperienced teen driver to hurl 2,000 pounds of automobile down the road or for him to pound 13 beers in an evening? The answer is clear and it should inform public policy more than any moral aversion to free choice/fun/whatever that drives anti-alcohol hysteria.