May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month, and it’s the perfect time to remind teen drivers about safety behind the wheel.
The number of teen driving deaths continues to fall and is now at an all-time low. It’s down more than 60 percent since 1975, when the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety started tracking these figures.
But despite this encouraging trend, it’s worth remembering that motor vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of death for teenagers. In 2010 alone, 3,115 teens were killed in auto accidents.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the U.S. And there are concerns about distracted driving among teens when they finally get a driver’s license. Distraction can come from many difference sources, from talking to passengers and answering phone calls, to even texting.
A new study published this month from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says there is a strong association between the number and age of passengers present in-vehicle and the risk of a teen driver dying in a crash.
The study found that the likelihood of a 16- or 17-year-old driver being killed in a crash, per mile driven, rises with each additional young passenger in the vehicle. Compared to driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s fatality risk jumps 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21 (and no older passengers). The fatality risk doubles when carrying two passengers younger than 21, and with no older passengers. The risk quadruples when carrying three or more passengers younger than 21, and with no older passengers.
Conversely, the report found that carrying at least one passenger aged 35 or older cuts a teen driver’s risk of death by 62 percent, and risk of involvement in any police-reported crash by 46 percent, highlighting the protective influence that parents and other adults have in the car.
“We know that carrying young passengers is a huge risk, but it’s also a preventable one,” said AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety CEO Peter Kissinger. “These findings should send a clear message to families that parents can make their teens safer immediately by refusing to allow them to get in the car with other young people, whether they’re behind the wheel or in the passenger seat.”
The AAA Foundation also said using an electronic device is a commonly observed distracted driving activity for teen drivers of both genders. Talking on cell phones, texting, personal grooming, eating or drinking, turning around in their seats while driving, and reaching for things in the car were among the most common distracting activities found, the group said.
“It’s absolutely outrageous and unacceptable that more than 3,000 teens are dying on the road every year,” according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “We need to continue to make more progress by strengthening graduated licensing laws, driver’s education, and getting parents more involved in their teen’s transition behind the wheel.”