Teen auto-related fatalities are most common in the South

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner

By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE

Deadly teen auto-crashes are highest in the South

For those of us with teenage drivers, you know that their driving is a two edged sword. We are relieved that they can help out with driving chores but fear that they could be injured or killed in an auto accident.

St. Tammany Parish is not immune to deadly teen auto crashes which show a pattern.

“Put a 16-year old boy at the wheel of an SUV. Add two or three teens, including at least one other boy. Send them out at night. Finally, let them travel fast- and unbelted.” USA Today examined all of the deadly crashes involving 16-to19-year-old drivers in 2003. About 3,500 teenagers died in teen-driven vehicles in the USA that year – a death toll that tops that of any disease or injury for teens. The South proved to be the deadliest region.

More than two-thirds of fatal single-vehicle teen crashes involved nighttime driving or at least one passenger age 16 to 19.

Nearly three-fourths of the drivers in those crashes were male. And 16-year old drivers were the riskiest of all. Their rate of involvement in fatal crashes was nearly five times that of drivers ages 20 and older according to the insurance Institute for Highway safety.

Teen brains are not developed. New medical research helps explain why. The part of the brain that weighs risks and controls impulsive behavior isn’t fully developed until about age 25, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some state legislators and safety activist question whether 16-year-olds should be licensed to drive.

Sixteen-year-olds are far worse drivers than 17-, 18- or 19-year-olds, statistics show.

New Jersey, which has long barred 16-year-olds from having unrestricted driver’s licenses and for years has had one of the lowest teen fatality rates in the USA.

According to the Insurance Institute, rules that restrict driving at 16 have clearly had a positive effect. As the proportion of 16-year-olds in the USA with driver’s licenses has declined from a decade ago, so has the proportion of 16-year-olds involved in fatal crashes. But the rate among those who are licensed has shown no improvement.

On an average day in the USA, 10 teenagers are killed in teen-driven vehicles. Some days are far worse. Crashes that occurred on one of the deadliest days of 2003 killed 26 teens.

The death toll could swell in coming years. A record 17.5 million teens will be eligible to drive once the peak of the “baby boomlet” hits driving age by the end of this decade- 1.3 million more than were eligible in 2000.

Grim acceptance is a collective response on the part of families.

Safety advocates have failed to adequately publicize what’s known about why teens die in crashes. State laws often don’t restrict behavior that’s linked to many teen fatalities. Although nearly all states have some form of “graduated licensing” programs that limit driving privileges for new teenage drivers, thousands of teens are still being killed on the roads. A review of crash statistics finds clear patterns.

Teen auto-related fatalities are highest when:

  • A 16-year-old is at the wheel.
  • They’re riding with other teens.
  • They’re in teen-driven cars after dark.
  • The young driver loses control.
  • They’re in an unsuitable vehicle (small cars or SUV’s).
  • They drive in more dangerous regions (like Louisiana and Mississippi).

Three factors- inexperience, night driving and distractions caused when other teens are riding in the car-all compound the problem, the USA analysis shows.

This article was originally published March 7, 2005 in The St. Tammany News.

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