Teen Driving Safety

If you have teenagers that are getting prepared to get their permit to drive, or are already licensed you should consider some hard facts before handing over the keys.

Statistics show that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America.  Accidents have killed between 5,000 and 6,000 teenagers every year for the past decade (through 2003, the last year for which complete NHTSA data is available)

•    From 1994 to 2003, a total of 57,142 teenagers were killed in motor vehicle crashes. Two thirds were not wearing their seat belts.
•    Teenage drivers account for only 6.4 percent (12.5 million) of the total drivers in the United States, but account for 14 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes and 18 percent involved in police-reported crashes.
•    No other kind of hazard comes close to claiming as many teenage lives, including teenage homicides (14 percent) and suicides (11 percent).
•    Sixty-five percent of teen passenger deaths occur when another teenager is driving.
•    In 2001, 26% of fatally injured teen drivers (16-20 years old) had high blood alcohol concentrations (0.08 percent or more), even though all were under the minimum legal drinking age and are not legally permitted to purchase alcohol.
•    Two out of three teenagers killed in motor vehicle crashes are males.

One of the major factors driving these statistics is the inexperience and lack of training and guidance for new drivers. Drivers training, (formal classes) at best is not enough exposure to the roads. It takes practice and more practice. Learning to handle a car under perfect conditions is one thing; when dealing with skids, tire blow-outs, hydroplaning and more, experience is necessary.

What, then, are the major obstacles facing new drivers? Why are their accident and fatality rates so high?
Inexperience. Though this may seem obvious, it bears repeating. Young drivers simply don't have the behind-the-wheel experience necessary to understand the dynamics associated with driving a motor vehicle. There's a vast difference between riding in the passenger seat and being behind the wheel. Generally, when it comes to driving, age and experience make a difference.

Speeding and racing: teen drivers also have a tendency to drive too fast. This, combined with inexperience and bravado, ( lack of an understanding of their own mortality, or being fearless) sometimes leads them to make poor driving decisions.

Drugs and Alcohol: young drivers often mix alcohol and drugs with their driving. Consider the following:
In 2001, 26 percent of 16-20 year-old drivers fatally injured in crashes had blood alcohol concentrations of .08 percent or more. While teen substance abuse has been a concern for decades, mixing it with motor vehicles has particularly lethal side effects. It's dangerous enough for teens to ingest substances that alter perception and reaction times; doing it behind the wheel of a car is almost suicidal. Statistics indicate that this activity shows some signs of abating, but the numbers are still too high.

No seatbelts: almost equally suicidal is the refusal to wear seatbelts. According to NHTSA, approximately 41 percent of young people who die in passenger vehicle crashes are not wearing seatbelts. Whether this harkens back to the "invulnerable youth" illusion or some other misapprehension of reality, it's impossible to change Newton's laws. An object in motion tends to remain in motion — i.e., if you're not belted during an accident event you will go through the windshield.

Choice of vehicle: because most young people have fewer resources than more mature Americans, they often drive older cars that may lack some of the latest safety equipment — airbags, ABS, traction control and the like. This makes them more vulnerable in accident situations. Second, because their vehicles are older, they may have more service issues that compromise their safety, such as worn brakes, tired shocks, bald tires, and so on. Lastly, to save money, young people often choose economy vehicles and small pickups, which have smaller crumple zones and fewer safety features.

Too many passengers: This last point is frequently overlooked, but has drawn attention recently. In a new study conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, researchers discovered that the risk of deadly accidents among young drivers rose sharply with each additional passenger.

One study, which looked at the driving habits of 16- and 17-year-old drivers, revealed a strong correlation between the number of passengers in a car and the risk of a fatal wreck. For example, a 16 year old with three or more passengers faces nearly three times the risk of a fatal wreck as one driving alone.

The study also found that young drivers are much more likely to engage in dangerous activates—drinking or using drugs, speeding, swerving, running red lights—when in the presence of their peers. So serious is this correlation that several states, including New York, have passed legislation that limits the number of passengers –only one non-immediate family passenger under the age of 21 unless accompanied by a supervising driver— may be in the car with a junior licensed person.

Most Deadly Time for Teen Drivers
Did you know that 54 percent of teenage motor vehicle crash deaths occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday – with Saturday being the deadliest day of the week for teens. 42 percent of those crash deaths (in 2003) occurred between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The deadliest months of the year for teenage motor vehicle fatalities are the months of May, June, July and August. On January 1, nearly 20 teenagers die in car crashes every year.
Understanding these issues is crucial to keeping our youngest drivers out of harm's way. Still, there's another factor, often overlooked, that affects the safety of teen drivers. Specifically, what kind of car does your teen drive?

In certain instances, vehicle choice can mean the difference between life and death. Obviously, a car's crashworthiness and rollover characteristics play a vital role in protecting both the driver and occupants; but other factors, such as the condition of the tires or the status of the cooling system, can also affect a vehicle's overall dependability, and thus increase the risk of breakdown. Checking with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is a good idea when deciding what kind of car you want to have your teen driving in. (www.iihs.org )