Measuring the Full Impact of Teen Driver Crashes

January 25, 2011

The impact of teen driver crashes extends far beyond teen drivers’ families and friends, according to a new report.

In 2008, more than half a million (681,000) people were involved in crashes where a teen driver was behind the wheel. More than 40,000 were injured, and nearly 30 percent of those who died in these crashes were not in cars driven by teens. The teen driving report is from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm Insurance Companies.

“When most people think about those affected by teen driver crashes, they think of the teens behind the wheel. We must also consider the significant impact of these crashes on other members of our communities: occupants of other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and other road-users,” says Dennis Durbin, M.D., co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, and a co-author of the report.

“Whether we have a teen driver in our family or not, we should all care about this issue. This report provides a concrete way to measure the effectiveness of laws, education, and other programs in reducing teen crashes and their impact on communities.”

The report sets forth 11 indicators to help policymakers and safety practitioners determine progress in key areas affecting teen driving safety. Researchers focused on four key behaviors among teen drivers that contribute to crashes or crash fatalities, that can also be tracked using federal data sources: failure to use seat belts, speeding, alcohol use, and distracted driving.

“Reducing speeding and alcohol use, increasing seat belt use, and eliminating distractions for teen drivers are the four calls-to-action we see in this report that would have great impact on reducing injuries and fatalities for all road users,” says Dr. Durbin, who is also an emergency physician. “More than half of teens who were fatally injured in crashes were speeding, 40 percent had a positive blood alcohol level, more than half were not wearing seat belts, and 16 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.”

The report also shows that more teens die from car crashes than from cancer, homicide, and suicide combined. Teen driver and peer passenger deaths account for one-quarter (24 percent) of total teen deaths from any cause. However, the authors stress that teen fatalities are just “the tip of the iceberg.” Thousands more – including friends, family members, and others on the road – suffer physical injuries, psychological trauma, and disruption to their everyday lives.

Most of these tragedies are due to inexperience, and are therefore preventable, the researchers say. They strong Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, which allow teens to gain experience under lower-risk conditions, are one effective preventive measure. They also recommend that public health programs and GDL and other traffic safety laws should focus on the key teen behaviors known to raise crash risk: speeding, alcohol use, distractions from peer passengers and cell phones, as well as failure to wear a seat belt.

The federal government recently expanded its Healthy People 2020 initiative to include target goals related to teen driving, including a 10 percent reduction in fatality rate and a 10 percent increase in seat belt use.

The report and more information can be found at www.TeenDriverSource.org.

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