Automobile crashes are the number one cause of death for teens in America, killing an average of nine per day. It’s Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, so here’s what you need to know to keep adolescent drivers safe.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that teen motor vehicle crashes cause approximately 2,300 fatalities and 236,000 emergency room visits per year, most of which are preventable. Why are young drivers at such a significant risk of collision?
With their high-tech lifestyles, 41% of minors text or email behind the wheel, as reported by the CDC. The 4,000-pound machine typically travels the length of a football field in the time it takes to glance at a text. That’s a long way to go with eyes off the road.
The CDC also reports that, although the number has decreased in recent years, 51% drove under the influence of alcohol, with 85% of those kids having engaged in binge drinking. The risk of motor collisions increases by 20% due to such actions.
Failure to wear a seatbelt also accounted for 48% of deadly accidents involving juveniles. Research has shown that belts reduce the risk of mortality by half.
The U.S. Department of Transportation found that teens speed when in the presence of their friends. The reason is unknown, but perhaps they feel peer pressured to “impress” colleagues with vehicular abilities.
The fact that minors often make irrational decisions should come as no surprise, however. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the region of the brain responsible for sound judgments and emotional processing, the prefrontal cortex, does not fully develop until about 25 years of age.
Techniques for Prevention
Adults make similarly risky decisions behind the wheel. Parents must lead by example and refrain from unsafe habits, as their youngsters are likely to follow in their ways.
Nevertheless, despite any wise advice offered, they notoriously “fight the man” and rebel against better judgment. Thus, parents may wish to look to alternatives.
Calculated to reduce the risk of crashes by about 20% and fatalities by 26% – 41%, the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program is offered in all U.S. states. The system issues driver’s permits in three stages, gradually working up to the independent handling of a car.
GDL allows youth to gain practice in safe road conditions before attaining full freedom. This concept is important, as learning new skills, such as operating an automobile, takes time to master. This is because of a process called neuroplasticity, which permits stronger connections in the brain to form through repetition. Perhaps adolescents are at a higher risk of collision when distracted behind the wheel compared to adults because they have not yet experienced adequate “practice.”
Educating teens on the science and statistics behind safe driving is vital. Keeping their hands on the wheel and their eyes and minds on the road may save thousands of lives.