Bumpy road for teen drivers in Missouri

Student drivers practice their turns and stops at the Jefferson City High School driving range Tuesday.

Staff at the Missouri Department of Transportation say Missouri "has a lot of work to do" when it comes to promoting teen driver safety, but one local Driver's Ed instructor said he's emphasizing safety and distracted driving education in the face of unsettling statistics.

"Obviously, the distraction piece throughout our program is the biggest thing we touch on," said Brian Ash of Jefferson City Public Schools. He teaches Driver's Education to teenagers in Jefferson City. "Whether it's eating in your car, texting, talking, or reaching for something on the floor, those things all tend to lead to possible bad things."

15 year-old Ben Cook said learning to drive a car has been a challenging task.

"When I first got on the road, I had this lady behind me and she was tailgating me. I thought, "I don't know what to do, I'm really scared,", then she passed me and I was like, "whew! Finally!""

Ash said some statistics from MODOT have caused him to pay special attention to educating student drivers about proper safety. According to MODOT, only 67% of Missouri teens wore their safety belt in 2013.

That year, about two thirds of young drivers between the ages of 15 through 20 who died in a car crash were not buckled up.

"Missouri has a lot of work to do," said MODOT Youth Program Coordinator Carrie Wolken. "Including strengthening the Graduated Driver's License law and adopting a primary safety belt law."

According to MODOT, of all 2010-2012 fatal and serious injury crashes in Missouri, 21.2% involved a young driver of a motor vehicle.

In 2010-2012, 400 persons were killed and 3,869 were seriously injured in traffic crashes involving a young driver of a motor vehicle.

"One of the biggest things we talk to the kids about is obviously distracted driving," Ash said. "Four teenagers in a car have the same crash statistics as a drunk driver."

Ash said teaching teen drivers the right behaviors before they get a license could save their life or the life of someone else.