The bad news is that car crashes remain the leading cause of death for American teenagers. The good news is that increased seat belt use, reduced distractions and improved safe driving skills have resulted in a 47 percent decline in teen driver-related fatalities over the past 6 years.
Miles to Go: Focusing on Risks for Teen Driver Crashes, a new teen driver safety report from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm, reveals a safer landscape for teen drivers and their passengers. Key findings include:
- From 2008 to 2011, the number of teen passengers (ages 15 to 19 years) killed in crashes not wearing seat belts decreased 23 percent.
- In this same time period, the number of teen passengers driven by a peer who had been drinking declined 14 percent.
- Additionally, 30 percent fewer teen passengers were killed in crashes involving a teen driver during this time period.
- In 2011, more than half of teen passengers (54 percent) reported “always” buckling up.
- Overall, the report measured a 47 percent decline in teen driver-related fatalities over the past 6 years.
The report, the third in an annual series, provides evidence to support stronger Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs, which allow teens to gain experience under lower-risk conditions. A comprehensive GDL program includes at least 50 hours of adult-supervised practice under varied conditions, limits teen passengers for the first year of independent driving, restricts unsupervised nighttime driving, requires seat belt use for the driver and all passengers, and prohibits cell phone use while driving.
Risky Behaviors Persist
Although the report indicates progress for teen driver safety efforts, risky behaviors – such as texting or emailing while driving, driving after drinking and low seat belt use – remain serious problems. According to the report, a third of teens say they have recently texted or emailed while driving, which is a proven deadly distraction, especially for teen drivers. Speeding remained a factor in more than half of fatal teen driver crashes – nearly the same percentage as in 2008, and the percentage of teens dying in crashes with a blood alcohol level > 0.01 increased slightly from 38 percent to 41 percent.
“Texting or emailing while driving is especially dangerous for teen drivers. We are encouraged that abstaining from cell phone use while driving is currently the norm for teens – most are not doing this dangerous behavior,” Durbin said. “To reach the teens that still do text or email while driving, messages should focus on teens’ positive safety beliefs about refraining from cell phone use while driving, rather than turning to scare tactics that always emphasize the negative consequences.”
The report focuses not only on teen drivers, but also on their teen passengers, who play a role in teen driver safety.
“When most people think about those affected by teen driver crashes, they think of teens behind the wheel. This report includes encouraging news about teen passengers, who are often left out of the teen driver safety picture,” said Dennis Durbin, M.D., M.S.C.E., co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP and lead author of the report. “When you see the needle move, as we have in this report, it’s time to apply the gas on programs that encourage safe teen passenger behaviors, as well as those that address what causes teens to crash.”