The number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes has been halved over the past decade, but traffic collisions still remain the top cause of death for teenagers. A new report sheds light on the factors driving down the deaths, noting that graduated-drivers license programs and drunk-driving education have played key roles in sparing lives. But there's one more factor the report's authors say could further diminish the death toll.
Parents play a big part in influencing the habits of young drivers, but other adults can have just as big an impact in helping to form good driving habits. The influences of coaches, teachers, aunts, uncles, doctors and police officers can have a cumulative effect, says the report, authored for the Governors Highway Safety Association. In short, it takes a village to raise a driver.
"But these adults may not be well versed in the issues or recognize that they can and should use their influence to engage teens in a conversation about what they can do to be safe on the road," wrote Pam Fischer, the report's author. "Getting them up to speed on the facts and providing tools they can use to facilitate a dialogue can pay dividends." She encourages state transportation agencies to aggressively promote and build these relationships.
Fatal crashes involving teens fell 50 percent from 7,942 in 2004 to 3,966 in 2013, the latest year for which complete data is available. Still, traffic accidents are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in the United States. Teens have the highest crash risk of any age group on the road, and are three times more likely than drivers age 20 and older to be involved in a deadly collision.
The need for involvement from other adults comes as parents spend less time with their children. Teens spend an average of 9.4 hours per day sleeping, an average of 5 hours in school and 2.38 staring at televisions. Fewer than half spend 20 minutes eating a meal with their parents, according to the Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey.
Only 55 percent of high-school students said they always wore a seat belt in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control
"While parents are key," said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA's executive director, "teens may not have strong – or any – parental involvement, and nearly all teens spend a great deal of time around other adults. These role models have a tremendous opportunity to help educate teens and help inspire them to make safe choices."
One bit of advice that an "influencer" or anybody else might pass along to teens seems basic, but it can be the difference between life and death – they need to do a better job buckling up. Teens have the lowest seat-belt use rate of any age group. Only 55 percent of high-school students said they always wore a seat belt in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Unbelted occupants account for a disproportionate percentage of traffic deaths. Only 13 percent of occupants don't wear seatbelts, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures, but represent 47 percent of occupant fatalities. The release of the report Monday coincides with the start of National Teen Driver Safety Week.