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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, although teen drivers (ages of 15 and 20) constitute almost 7 percent of all licensed drivers, they are involved in 14 percent of fatal motor vehicle-related crashes. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a 16-year-old driver is more than 20 times as likely to have a motor vehicle crash than any other licensed driver. In fact, the leading cause of death among 16- to 20-year-olds is motor vehicle-related crashes.
Consider the following statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and discuss them with your teen before he/she gets behind the wheel of a car:
- The largest proportion of adolescent injuries are due to motor vehicle crashes.
- Adolescents are far less likely to use seat belts than any other age group.
- When adolescents drive after drinking alcohol, they are more likely than adults to be involved in a crash, even when drinking less alcohol than adults.
- Adolescents also cause a disproportionate number of deaths among non-adolescent drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
- Alcohol is involved in nearly 35 percent of adolescent (15 to 20 years) driver fatalities.
- Fifty-five percent of all teen motor vehicle deaths occur on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Thirty-five percent occur between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.
There are two main reasons why teenage drivers are at increased risk for motor vehicle-related crashes that result in injury or death, including the following:
- lack of driving experience
Lack of experience means the teenage driver is less able to detect and respond to traffic hazards, less in control of his/her vehicle, and less able to integrate speed.
- risk behavior of teenagers
Teenagers tend to take more risks as they are influenced by their emotions, stress, and peer pressure. In addition, experimenting with alcohol and recreational drugs can impair the teenager's driving ability. Also, teenage drivers tend to not use their seat belts, increasing their risk of injury in a crash. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), less than one-fourth of high school students say they always wear their seat belts when another person is driving.
Another contributing factor to the increased risk to teenager drivers includes nighttime driving. Nighttime driving is more difficult for anyone, especially the novice driver. However, teenagers tend to do disproportionately more driving at night, increasing their risk of a fatal motor vehicle crash, as compared to daytime driving. In fact, adolescents do 20 percent of their driving at night, but 50 percent of teen fatalities occur at night.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made the following recommendations to pediatricians in coordination with parents to ensure safer teenage driving:
- Emphasize to both the parents and teenagers how important safe driving is, including the fact that teenagers need to develop driving skills with supervised practice.
- Set a good driving example as an adult.
- Establish limits on your teenager's driving privileges, such as a limited number of passengers and/or restricted nighttime driving.
- Impose penalties for irresponsible driving behavior.
- Supervise teenage drivers in vehicles.
- Make sure the vehicle is mechanically safe.
- Get involved in community advocacy, such as helping coordinate alcohol-free events, to help support parent-peer initiatives and help teenagers avoid negative peer pressure.
- Support legislative advocacy that targets a reduction in motor vehicle crashes among teenage drivers, such as graduated licensing systems, stricter minimum driving age laws, and tougher safety belt laws.
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Online Resources of Adolescent Medicine