It is well known that young drivers, especially males, are more likely to be involved in car accidents, and hence their insurance fees are higher. One reason for their increased risk is the lack of experience, as well as the willingness of young drivers to take unnecessary risks. The fact that this risky behaviour is more common among males has been described by one of my friends as "the ability of testosterone to override the brain in young male drivers."
Attempts to modify this behaviour, including campaigns of zero tolerance to drinking and driving or racing, have had limited success. There are several reasons for this limited success. One has to do with the limited numbers of enforcers and technology, such as speed radar. But I would suggest that one of the major reasons has to do with the psychology of the young driver.
Young people have this wonderful denial approach that says, "This will not happen to me." Furthermore, once they have driven unsafely without any repercussions, they are more likely to repeat this behaviour and turn it into a driving pattern. Parents who hand their car keys to their children are aware of these risks, and a whole generation of parents have insomnia until their cars are back in their driveways. But their fears are often not strong enough to deprive their children from getting the experience and becoming mature drivers.
There is a new technology that may help this behaviour pattern and its devastating results to many young drivers and their victims: the cellphone. Many drivers have a cellphone or are likely to reach a land line in a short time. Thousands of them are exposed daily to unsafe driving that is annoying enough that they would be happy to report it. I suggest that these drivers should be able to report unsafe driving to a 1-800 number operated by the province. Such a report should include the driver's name and phone number, the licence number of the car involved in the unsafe driving, and a short description of the unsafe driving.
The main purpose of this line should be to report each such incident to the owner of the car. This will enable parents to have information on their children's behaviour on the road and to restrict their accessibility to their cars accordingly. Aside from allowing parents to educate their children and even punish them by limiting their driving, the more important effect would be an immediate restraint on the young drivers who are more likely to fear being caught than fear inflicting harm on themselves and others.
This system would relieve the informer from the need to spend time and effort in reporting it, and would also make him or her anonymous to the recipient of the complaint. But having the informer's information ensures that, if necessary, it could be checked. If this information is collected, there may be other possibilities for its use. If the operator were informed of a crime, he or she would have to report it to the police. If the offence creates a major risk to the public (driving at 120 kilometres an hour, for instance, in a 50 km/h zone), it should be also reported to the police.
The cost of such a system, which could be initially tested at night, is relatively low, and the returns are likely to be very high. I implore you to consider this as a solution to reduce the risks of driving in Ontario.
Dan Farine, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto, is a parent to a teenage driver.