Young drivers more at risk in Arkansas than in most other states, study says

BENTONVILLE — Liviet Christians believes driving is a privilege and has strict rules for her 16-year-old son when he’s behind the wheel.

He can’t drive his friends around. He can’t talk on a cell phone, not even through speakers or the car radio. And he needs to pick a radio station before he drives off, not keep changing stations while driving, Christian said.

Christians, from Bentonville, is concerned about distracted teenage drivers and believes her safety rules are designed to protect not only her son but other drivers who share the road with him.

“I’ve had accidents myself, and it’s never pretty,” she said.

Arkansas was the eighth most dangerous state for young drivers — defined as those between the ages of 15 and 20 — from 2015 to 2019, according to the results of a study conducted by legal experts Dolman Law and announced earlier this year. According to the study, Arkansas had 298 fatal crashes involving a young driver during those five years, or 125 crashes per 100,000 young people.

Mississippi was the most dangerous state with 420 fatal accidents involving a young driver, or 176 fatal accidents per 100,000 young people. According to the study, Massachusetts had the fewest accidents at 31 out of 100,000 young people. The national average was 82.6 per 100,000.

The risk of car accidents is higher among 16-19 year olds than any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teenage drivers are nearly three times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than drivers aged 20 and older, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Christians said she knows the dangers of distracted driving. She was walking with her then-5-year-old daughter in downtown Bentonville when a distracted teenage driver nearly ran her over at a crosswalk, she said.

Teaching her son to drive made her very nervous, she said. But she added, “I’ve calmed down and realized that if I yell, I don’t do it any better.”

Michael Chambers of Rogers said his 16-year-old daughter Reisha has her driver’s license. She got her driver’s license when she was 14 and has been driving for a year and a half, he said.

She has to follow the rules that come with her license, but Chambers didn’t put any special conditions on her.

“She knows not to use the phone while driving,” Chambers said. “She understands that she should focus on the road.”


Kerry Mulligan of Rogers and her husband have three children. The two boys are on the mobile platform, one has his driver’s license, the other a permit.

“Having two teenage drivers at different stages of driving is nerve wracking,” Mulligan said. “With both of them, the biggest concerns are the added distractions that we didn’t have when we were learning or starting to ride. We hope they really understand that for some reason using the phone isn’t important.”

Mulligan uses the safety app Life360 to monitor her sons’ driving and their goals.

“When they’re speeding, we have conversations about how important it is to be careful and how quickly accidents can happen,” she said. “That speed makes it harder to control your vehicle.”

And she reminds them to think about the possible consequences of an accident they caused by being careless: “If something happened, they could live with it.”

Seamus Mulligan, 15, said he has his driver’s license and is learning to drive. His father worked with him mainly on driving. Driving lessons are going well, and his parents give him feedback and explain things to him along the way, Seamus said.

He described himself as an attentive and careful driver.

Seamus said he believes the state should make it mandatory to take driver training from a third party because sometimes parents yell at their children, make them nervous and overwhelm them. He said he’s heard some places offer it as a class through the school.

His older brother Liam, 16, described himself as a fairly easygoing driver.

Both of his parents taught him to drive, Liam said. His mother took him to an undeveloped area and let him drive through the empty streets.

“That was helpful because it reminds me of my first time behind the wheel,” Liam said. “I felt uncomfortable driving in an area where nobody else was really helping.”


While many states require teens to have formal driver training before they can obtain a driver’s license, Arkansas does not.

Kimma Harper, president and instructor of the Driving Academy of Northwest Arkansas, said it’s not uncommon for Arkansas to be in the top 10 of studies similar to Dolman’s.

Harper said she emphasizes that when it comes to driving, teens only have one job, and that’s driving. All drivers should always be aware of other drivers, pedestrians and traffic controls, and monitor weather conditions, she said.

Harper founded the academy in 2006. Her first class was in 2007 and she has taught thousands of riders.

Parents are their children’s first driving instructors, taking care of them from a young age, she said. Children are in vehicles with their parents when they are speeding, failing to stop at stop signs, and talking on the phone. Children will then mimic this behavior, Harper said.

The best thing parents can do to reduce the risk of their teen using a phone while driving is for parents to stop using it, Harper said.

Some teens think a car is just a big toy since they had remote control cars when they were younger and drive them in video games, Harper said.

“They think they can drive because they can operate a video game and honestly it can help their skills, but it’s not just a bigger toy,” she said. “I mean it’s a gun.”

Parents can monitor their kids’ driving with an app or GPS tracker that alerts them when their kids are speeding, Harper said.

She said teens in Arkansas could get their paper permit at 14 and potentially get a hardship license six months later. A person between the ages of 14 and 16 can get a hardship pass, also known as an age waiver, if they can show they have to drive without an adult, e.g. B. to get to or from work, school or doctor’s appointments.

Harper is unsure if six months of experience is enough to become a licensed driver. It’s good for young drivers to have driving experience in all four seasons, she said.

Harper was a math teacher before becoming a driving instructor. Students would ask her when or if they would use the math skills, but students don’t ask her that when she’s teaching them driving skills, she said.

“If we can reduce their risk of collision,” she said, “then they’ll save on the cost of their deductible and insurance, but more importantly, they’ll help prevent injuries and deaths.”