The Short of It
Attention any parent with a teen driver! Memorial Day kicked off the 100 deadliest days for teens behind the wheel, but you may be surprised by the distraction putting our kids at the biggest risk for accidents.
From 2010 to 2014, more than 5,000 people died in car crashes that involved teen drivers during the 100 days following Memorial Day. In a new study by the Foundation for Traffic Safety, which is part of AAA, researchers found that almost 60 percent of those accidents was the result of the youngest drivers on the road being distracted. And in the past five years, crashes involving kids ages 1619 increased 16 percent per day compared with other days of the year.
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Just thinking about how many distractions there are for teens in the car these days is enough to make any parent nervous: cell phones, music, and friends. And with summer right around the corner, kids are ready and raring to go for carefree days with their besties at the beach, the mall, or the pool.
John Ulczycki, the National Safety Council's vice president of strategic initiatives, told Fox 43 News, "We have always known that passengers were a big risk for teens, but what we're really finding out now is, passengers may be one of the most important risks for teens, even more so than things like texting."
Consider this sobering statistic: passengers increase the risk of a teen driver having a fatal crash by at least 44 percent. "It's tragic that parents don't really appreciate the risks of passengers," Ulczycki says.
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Many states have laws regulating how many passengers teen drivers can have in the car with them.
"Forty-three states currently restrict newly licensed drivers from having more than one young passenger in their vehicle," says Robert Foss, senior research scientist at the Highway Safety Research Center and director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers.
And that's for good reason. A 2014 study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that loud conversations and horseplay pose a bigger risk to teen drivers than technology. When 52 high-school age drivers allowed the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center to install cameras in their vehicles, researchers found loud conversation created a driving environment where teens were six times more likely to make an evasive maneuver to avoid an accident. Horseplay made them three times more likely to get into a crash.
Ulczycki says driving at night, when it's dark out, is also especially dangerous. Although laws restrict passengers in cars driven by teens, he reminds us that it's really up to the parent to set the rules.
"If you have a kid who had their license for less than one year, you have to think very, very carefully about the conditions or the situations in which you allow them to carry any passengers. You really do," he says.
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I'll admit teen drivers make me nervous. Because when I see them on the road, oftentimes they're traveling in a group, laughing, and clearly having a grand, ol' time. I wonder how focused on driving safely they can truly be with their "party on wheels."
So please, talk to their teen drivers about the crucial importance of staying safe behind the wheel.