America's highways are deadly, especially for young drivers. In fact, traffic crashes are the number one killer of teens. Even in Northwest Florida, kids are dying to drive.
On a late October afternoon, Joseph Gorton, 18, awaited his turn in the drivers license office at the Bay County Government Center. He was hoping to join the more than 700,000 teens who are licensed to drive in Florida. "I'm a little bit nervous but I'll pull through," he said.
Gorton, who completed a driver education course at My Florida Training Center in Panama City, promises to be safe behind the wheel. His instructor and the school's owner, Suzy Hernandez, said not every teenager shares Joseph's commitment.
"I think they get a little bit comfortable when they start driving and then they kind of overestimate their ability," said Hernandez.
"Everyone thinks they're invincible until something bad happens," said Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen. Deputies in the traffic division have seen a dramatic increase in careless driving among teens, he said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the leading causes of teen-related crashes are:
Inexperience and immaturity;
Drinking and drug use;
Even the most protective parents can't ride along with their children all the time, and that's where technology comes in. Devices such as the CarChip Pro, which retails for about $100, allow parents to monitor and, to some extent, even control their teenager's driving habits.
Rachel Burke of Panama City Beach worries about her 16 year old daughter Abigaile, who started driving on her own just a couple of months ago. "She has told me she's not that great of a driver so yeah I'm concerned," she said.
Rachel and Abigaile agreed to put CarChip Pro to the test. The device plugs into the vehicle's diagnostic port and the included software allows Mom to monitor speed, acceleration and braking.
Rachel said some people have told her that her daughter might drive differently since she knows the device is monitoring her every move. "I really don't care," she said. "If it makes her drive safer, then it's worth it."
"It will probably show that I'm not the best driver out there, but I try," said Abigaile. "Hopefully, it will show that I'm an okay driver."
"A parent of a sixteen year old just worries about that phone call that they're going to get from the hospital or the police," said Rachel. "There's been a lot of those lately around here."
We'll take a look at Abigaile's driving report... and find out if Joseph got his license... in Part 3 of our special report.