Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My daughter, Alicia Betancourt, 16, died recently in a motor vehicle accident. She was a passenger in a car driven by a 16-year-old who lost control while speeding.

The car went off the road and hit a utility pole, killing my daughter on impact.

The police report is not official, but contributing factors were: speeding, not paying attention, driver inexperience.

This tragedy, as well as the increasing number of teenage driving deaths in Montgomery County, has brought to our attention that we are allowing inexperienced drivers on the road without the appropriate training. I would like to see a change in the age at which teenagers can obtain a driver's license.

We know that 16-year-olds are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than older teens. We know that the number of passengers is a factor in causing driver distraction. And that a greater number of accidents occur during nighttime hours.

The current requirements to obtain a license -- the number of hours of practice; the fact that a parent might not be providing the instruction; that driving schools do not adequately prepare students for emergent situations; and a driving test that does not reflect a proficiency in truly being able to drive an automobile -- these are just a few things that should be changed if we expect the number of teenage deaths to decrease.

I ask your assistance in helping parents to change the laws, and to become more aware of what their children are doing and how they are driving. I would welcome any information that you might provide in order to change such an obviously flawed situation.

Arturo E. Betancourt, M.D.

Silver Spring

Thank you for stepping forward. I'm so sorry it had to be under these circumstances.

I believe that 16-year-olds should not be allowed to drive alone. They are more children than adults. Does anyone believe a driving school certificate for the minimum half-dozen hours behind the wheel should qualify young people to drive by themselves?

Let's move the minimum age to 17 and involve the parents in comprehensive driver training. This could include completing a checklist that the student has demonstrated repeated proficiency in certain skills. (Please see next letter.)

Meanwhile, the people to contact to change the laws involving teenage driving are your state legislators and state senators in Maryland and Virginia, and your D.C. Council members in the District. And kindly send me a copy of your letter.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

After all the tragic teenage accidents in this area, it would seem an outcry would be raised to find a solution to the problem. So far, we have only weak suggestions, such as better parent control and better driver training.

It seems to me drastic steps should be taken. After having driven extensively in this area and Europe, I can tell you where the best drivers are, and how they got that way.

They are in Germany, and they got that way because driver's licenses are awarded only after age 18, and after completing a comprehensive written and performance test.

As a result, I feel safer driving in Germany than any place in the world.

Mark L. Reese Jr.


I have received many letters over the years about how the European driver education system is superior to ours. Maybe some legislators should look into that.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails to or faxes to 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.

Alicia Betancourt, 16, a junior at James Blake High School in Silver Spring, died when another teenager lost control of the car in which she was a passenger.