Safe behind the wheel

LIHUE — Rukiyah Walker has had her license for three months and was driving with a permit for nine months before that. 

After learning to become comfortable behind the wheel with her parents, the 16-year-old from Lihue said everything came together in the driver’s education course.

“Maybe the teen driving safety is better here because of the driver’s education,” Walker said. “I feel more comfortable on the road.”

Statistics indicate Walker is right.

Hawaii ranks second in the nation for best teen drivers, according to a WalletHub study conducted by John Kiernan, a senior writer and editor for Evolution Finance in Washington, D.C.

Some credit Hawaii’s driver education courses and tough laws for the high ranking.

“At one time, the failure rate for teen drivers taking a road test was very high,” said County of Kauai Chief Licensing Examiner Vaughn Parongao. “Now that Hawaii has a mandatory driver’s education law for teens, there is a low failure rate. Our examiners find that our teen applicants are well prepared for the exam.”

Kiernan also reported that Hawaii ranks fourth in teen drivers as a percentage of total drivers. Hawaii ranks first in the nation regarding teen driving conditions, including distracted-driving and texting laws, and for premium increase after adding a teen driver to an adult’s auto insurance. The state ranks 17th in the percentage of teen driver fatalities, and fifth in the number of teens charged with driving under the influence of an intoxicant.

The study is based on data from The U.S. Census Bureau, along with state and federal transportation and public safety agencies. It looked at the percentage of teens with driver’s licenses, the number of miles driven, moving violations and fatalities. 

Hawaii has a zero-tolerance law with stiff penalties for teenagers caught driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system, said County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar. It is a relatively safe place to be a teen driver.

“We urge young drivers to please be smart and don’t drive if you’ve had any alcohol,” Kollar said. “Some of the most tragic cases for our office are those involving young lives that were cut short by underage drinking and driving.”

More teen drivers could be on the road soon, too.

“More teens obtain their driver’s licenses during the summer than any other season,” wrote Liana Arnold, WalletHub spokeswoman. “With an average of 260 teen deaths resulting from auto accidents during the summer months, our study is especially timely for parents of young drivers.”

 A Kauai resident under the age of 18 and applying for a new driver’s license must successfully pass a graduated driver licensing program that provides instruction on the Hawaii Drivers Preparation Course along with road practice to develop safe, responsible driving habits prior to taking their road test.

 Alfred Norida, 17, of Lihue, said that it’s really not that hard to be a safe driver. When drivers don’t think of being safe as a chore then it becomes second-nature.

“Driver’s education helps a lot,” Norida said. “When you practice right, then eventually you drive right without even thinking.”

Arick Yasay, 17, of Kapaa, said he had a lot of practice with his learner’s permit before he ever tested for his license. He said seat belts and texting laws are not just laws but common sense safety.

“If you don’t use a seat belt and something happens, then you’re done,” Yasay said.

Lauren Manibog, 18, of Lihue, was glad she took the after-school driver’s education at Kapaa High School. She said applying the classroom to the road was not that difficult. 

“I thought driver’s education was good,” she added.

The majority of teens take the high school driver’s course with the lower $10 program fee. The classes are after school and the driver’s training on the weekends.

The demand for the classes and driving time means the course could last three to five months, said Aaron Tokuda, owner and instructor of Head On Driving School in Kapaa. For kids and parents who want to get through the course in around six weeks, they go to his private school, or the other two on island, Auntie Jo’s Driving School, and Cherie Wilson Driving School.

“It depends on what the parents and the teens want,” Tokuda said. “They may want them to drive their younger sibling to and from school, or any number of reasons.”

Tokuda said the private schools have fewer students but the instructors take pride in teaching kids the right way.

“I don’t cut corners in the classroom or the driving part and make sure these kids understand what they learn in the classroom and make sure they remember and use what they learn on the road,” Tokuda said. “These are life skills that they will use for the rest of their lives and we want them to stay safe throughout.”

Teens face difficult driving conditions in Hawaii, the report found. Hawaii ranked 45th in quality of roads, and 37th in average cost of car repairs.  

Being safe is not that hard for drivers, said Priscilla Lutz, of Kilauea, who is Manibog’s cousin and another young driver.

“It is not that complicated when you drive smart,” she said.

Read the full WalletHub report online at http://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-states-for-teen-drivers/4598.

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