Getting a drivers’ license is a rite of passage for many teens, and it provides new freedom. It frees parents from providing taxi service and opens a whole new realm of possibilities for a teenager. Along with these blessings lurks the strong possibility of tragedy.
Driving accidents are the primary cause of death among U. S. teenagers and the first 500 miles of a teenager’s driving are the most dangerous. In the U.S. 270 persons (15-24) are killed each week (14,000 a year) and 11,500 youth (15-24) are injured each week (595,000 a year) in motor vehicle accidents.
Stories must be put to these statistics. I don’t drive far along a highway without seeing a shrine commemorating the life of a teen driving fatality-some whom I know about. A local (Boston North Shore) newspaper spotlighted three terrible driving accidents in one week. It was the end of June, 2005-graduation and the beginning of summer fun.
Someone handed an 18-year-old teenager, without a drivers license, the keys to an SUV. She wanted to take a friend for a ride. She couldn’t handle it very well and began weaving so wildly a car behind dialed 911. Suddenly rounding a curve, she bounced off a wall and across the road over a 37-year-old mother who happened to be gardening. The woman died two hours later. The driver ran into the woods and called her boyfriend on a cell phone. He met her and they took off-only to be apprehended by police, who found her in the passenger seat hiding underneath a towel.
He was sixteen with a license that didn’t allow him to carry a passenger. But that didn’t stop him picking up his 14-year-old girlfriend. Their friends were in another car ahead of them. When he tried to pass his friends car, he noticed a Ford Explorer coming the other way. Trying to squeeze back in behind his friend’s car, he bounced off it sideways, out into the path of the Explorer. His girlfriend was killed.
Matt is remembered as one who always tried to make friends laugh. He loved his motorcycle and racing. On Monday his mechanics teacher “grabbed him by the cheeks, looked him square in the eyes and warned him, “Matt, don’t screw around on your bike. I don’t want to be attending your funeral.” Tuesday evening Matt may have been drinking as he and his friends gathered to drag down their favorite isolated street. A tractor- trailer was parked along that usually empty street. When the 17-year-old Matt lifted his 2004 Yamaha in a wheelie, he never saw the truck. Slamming into it, he was killed.
Any primary cause of death among an age group-as important as young adults-should get our attention more than it has. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA):
Traffic crashes are the #1 cause of death and injury among people 15-19 years of age.
Teenage drivers make up 7% of the driving population but are involved in 14% of fatal crashes.
In 1998, more than 6,300 teens died in motor vehicle collisions.
More statistics and factors:
Highest rate of vehicular fatalities occur to those 16 years of age. The 16-year-old population will increase from 3.5 million to over 4 million by 2010. There will be a 23% increase in 16-20-year-old drivers by 2010 (26.1 million of them).
Of teen drivers fatally injured in automobiles, more than 1/3 were speed related accidents.
Teen drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents had a youth passenger in automobile 45% of the time.
Teen deaths due to motor vehicles occur on weekends 53% of the time.
Teen lifestyle of staying up late make teen drivers a high risk to have an automobile accident due to drowsiness.
The good news is that teenagers are less likely to drive after drinking than adults, but the bad news is that their deaths due to alcohol are still higher than adults. In 2002, 25 percent of 16-20-year-old passenger vehicle drivers fatally injured in crashes had high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of (0.08 percent or more). Teenage drivers with BACs in the 0.05-0.08 percent range are far more likely than sober teenage drivers to be killed in single-vehicle crashes — 17 times more likely for males, 7 times more likely for females. At BACs of 0.08-0.10, risks are even higher, 52 times for males, 15 times for females. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
Drive Home Safe featured this article: “Teen Driving Fatality Statistics: Inexperience and immaturity causes teen accidents and deaths.”
Many factors contribute to the cause of teen deaths in motor vehicles. Looking at the causes, it’s not hard to see why teen accident and death rates are higher than older drivers…. Immaturity is a contributing factor… tailgating and not using safety belts are misjudgments teens make more than older drivers. Making matters worse are teen tendencies to drive small (less protective) vehicles. Rounding out the problems teenagers face as new drivers is their lack of driving skill or inexperience.
Fortunately, there are many resources available to us-many right on the Internet (see Driving: Resources). Before and beyond these resources we should emphasize the single word and idea “Respect.” There must be, first of all, a deeper respect for life: our own and others. Such respect can lessen the spirit of invincibility and that need for high risk-taking. Then, there should be a respect for the vehicle and all that it can do-really “fear” in the old sense of the word. As we get on a motorcycle or into a car, we should recognize that it can, at any time, become a lethal weapon. We also need a special respect for our passengers, for other drivers (who might be drunk, old, inexperienced, angry or sleepy), and for sometimes distracted or impulsive pedestrians.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. What kind of a driver are you? What are your most lax or dangerous tendencies? How did your most serious accident or close call occur?
2. How have you taught someone to drive (or how would teach)? What resources did/would you use?
3. Beyond family, how do you think society should prepare a young person to drive? What should be required, at what age, and how long a trial period?
4. What might be the place of peer training or training by those just a little older-including the survivors of accidents?
1. We are losing too many of our young people to dismiss or only partially consider this crisis.
2. States that have concentrated on the reduction of teen driving accidents and fatalities have seen significant successes.
3. Driving issues are not unrelated to other problems confronting teenagers; they all should be considered holistically.