On a warm Tuesday evening last July, a car full of teens left a fireworks show in suburban Detroit and headed out for a ride.
In the back seat was Amanda James, a 15-year-old with a unique sense of style and fabulous hair, who was coming home from the July 4th celebration with her boyfriend, her best friend and another friend. It was around 11 p.m. For whatever reason – we know it wasn't drugs or alcohol, but maybe it was exuberance for the joys of summer or some reckless celebration – the driver, a 19-year-old with a restricted driver's license who shouldn't have had any passengers in the car, was speeding down Interstate 75. According to accounts of the event in a local newspaper, The News Herald, he was weaving in and out of traffic and around semi-trucks.
The accident, when it happened, was quick. No one hit the vehicle, but the driver lost control, and struck the median. The car spun, and the centrifugal force pushed Amanda, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, out of the car. She landed on the highway.
Moments later, in the chaos, she was run over by another car. She died almost instantly.
"It was horrific, a little girl laying there in the cement," Paul Barron, a local fire chief who was on the scene, told a TV reporter from Fox 2 News in Detroit. "It was just something you don't want to see."
Sadly, the Fourth of July is the most dangerous holiday for teen drivers, according to AllState Insurance, which analyzed data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Narrowing the data to just one day makes the fatalities seem small – AllState says an average of 134 people die on July 4th each year, and teens make up 6 to 10 percent of those deaths. Doing the math, that means eight to 13 teens die on American roads on Independence Day.
That may not seem like a huge number to sound the alarms over, but driving is the leading killer of teens in the U.S. More teens die from car accidents than from any other cause, and teen drivers die more often from car accidents than any other age group.
There are many common threads that often turn out badly for teen drivers, including:
• Too many teens in the car: Statistics show every passenger in a car increases the likelihood that a teen driver will crash. Males are particularly susceptible to distraction from other passengers.
• Speed: Novice drivers often don't have the skills to get themselves out of sticky situations, yet they often drive much faster than the road or traffic conditions call for. Speeding accounts for one-third of all fatal teen accidents.
• Not wearing seatbelts: Teens buckle up much less often than other drivers. Only 76 percent of teens say they use seatbelts regularly, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Even more startling: A full 58 percent of the teens who died in 2006, the last year for which numbers are available, were not wearing seatbelts.
As a parent, what can you do to keep your teen safe this holiday weekend? Make sure your teens are aware of the dangers involving multiple passengers, seatbelt use and speeding. Talk to them about driving conservatively on the road, and encourage them to always buckle up. And let them know they can always call home and ask for a ride if they feel like the person driving them is not a safe driver.
Many parents don't think about these topics until it's too late. They trust their teens are doing the right thing out on the roads, and are ignorant of the real dangers facing novice drivers. But inexperience and speed can be a lethal combination, so make sure your teens are at least aware of the dangers.
Family and friends of Amanda James have since planted a tree outside Riverview High School to commemorate Amanda's life.
"They're trying to keep her memory going," Kaity James, Amanda's older sister, told The News-Herald. "Nobody wants to forget her."