Q&A: Advice for Young Drivers, Parents

A CHP officer who works with young drivers talks about what he hears from students and parents

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CHP Officer Leland Tang has been the West Valley Division's public information officer since 2002. As part of his job, he works with students at nearly 50 schools on issues related to road safety.

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He's also a father who knows the responsibility that comes with preparing a young driver for Southern California's twisting canyon roads, busy freeways and the distractions that can shatter lives in just a few seconds. Motor vehicle injuries account for one in three deaths among people in the 15 to 20 age group.

Below, Officer Tang answers a few questions about what he has seen on the road and in the schools.

Q: What do you tell parents about preparing a young driver?

A: Even when you don't think your teen is watching you, they are. So if you think it's a good idea to eat and drive, you're setting that example to them. If you're doing something other than what you're supposed to be doing, they're going to emulate that. That's why I call (the six-month learner's permit  period) an apprenticeship program. If you take it seriously, then you're going to teach them right.

Q: What's it like for a new driver today? Are there issues they face that are different than what their parents faced?

A: We have 40 to 44 million registered vehicles and more than 20 million licensed drivers on the road. The vehicle environment is a technology-rich environment -- there are a lot of distractions built into the vehicle.

Q: How has driver training changed over the years?

A: We've used Red Asphalt, and that's one thing, but kids are de-sensitized to blood and gore. When I bring a mother to an auditorium and she talks about what it feels like to lose a son and the pain and anguish she goes through, you can hear a pin drop

Q: What major changes have there been when it comes to driver training?

A: The Graduated Drivers License program puts retrictions on teens early -- when you can drive, who you can drive with, not having passengers. When you put two teens in a car, they're going to talk. You know they're going to turn up the volume on the radio, and you have peer pressue, too. We do that to introduce them to driving slowly. In this state, our program is working -- we're not seeing an increase in teen fatalities.

Q: What about the cell phone? How do you break that habit?

A: The bottom line is, it's a distraction. You can't multi-task like that. The video game environment is completely different than reality. There's no reset button, no do-overs.

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