Car crashes are the number one killer of teens, but these accidents are avoidable and preventable. In 2009, over 8,800 teenagers ages 15-19 died as a result of motor vehicle crashes, based on data from the Fatality Analysis Report System (FARS). That figure is down from over 9,900 teen vehicular deaths in 2008, but there is still more work to be done. Highlighting the continued challenges, October 17-23 has been designated Teen Driver Safety Week, with the goal to raise awareness and reduce teen fatalities.
There is no single solution to the dangers of teen driving. Among the numerous contributing factors are drinking and/or drug use behind the wheel, speeding, low use of seat belts, and distracted driving, which is this year’s safety week theme.
At last month’s Distracted Driving summit in Washington, D.C., there was a discussion on how to get the message out that texting and driving is a deadly combination. To curb this behavior, a combination of education, legislation, and parental involvement will be required. While there aren’t specific statistics on teens and distracted driving, recent studies suggest that despite knowing the risks, teen still text and drive.
While there has been an increased focus this year on distractions for all drivers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) strategy for preventing teen deaths on the road includes other areas of concern. Access to alcohol, graduated driver licensing, seat belt use, and parental responsibility are the four core areas NHTSA feels improvements can be made in both legislation and education.
Teens are at a higher risk of death in an alcohol-related crash. In 2008, 28 percent of 16-20 year-old drivers fatally injured in crashes had blood-alcohol content over the legal limit. Reducing access to alcohol through stricter enforcement is one way to help combat the problem.
Seat belt use is lowest among teens and young adults, and the majority of teens involved in fatal crashes are unbuckled. Higher enforcement of seat belt laws is needed to get the message out.
Young, novice drivers are more likely to die in crashes due to their inexperience and immaturity behind the wheel. Graduated licensing programs have helped to ease teens into driving through a step-by-step process to full licensure. These programs have been proven successful in reducing crashes among young drivers, but some state programs are stronger than others.
Lastly, it is the parent’s responsibility to teach their teen good driving habits, monitor their behavior, and set rules on alcohol, cell phone use, and passengers.
If you have a teen in your household, take this reminder as an opportunity to consider what steps can be taken to improve their safety behind the wheel and as a passenger. Read the stories linked below for more on improving teen safety, and also visit our kids and car safety hub.
AAA study says parents are not exposing teens to full driving experience
Best cars for teens
Teen defensive driving school improves confidence, skills
Teen driving school directory: Where to find car control clinics in your area