New York residents were recently shocked and horrified by the tragic car accident that took the lives of five teens just before Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, teenage deaths under such circumstances are not as uncommon as we might like to think. And with summer right around the corner, we may be hearing of more accidents like these.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teens. In 2010, 2,700 teens between age 16 and 19 died in car accidents, amounting to seven of such teen deaths every day. The same year, 282,000 teens received emergency room treatment at hospitals for injuries related to motor vehicle crashes.
Summertime ratchets up both the number of crashes and teens deaths. In New York State alone, 30% of the teen driver deaths occur in June, July and August, according to the NYS Department of Health. During these months, New York teens between 16 and 17 are also more likely to be severely injured in motor vehicle crashes.
What’s behind these deadly teen driver accidents?
The number one cause of teen motor vehicle accidents is driver inexperience. Teens newly behind the wheel are less likely than adults to scan the road ahead and respond appropriately to hazards, according to a 2011 report in Accident Analysis and Prevention. New teen drivers also more likely to drive too fast for road conditions and engage in distracted driving.
Distracted driving is a particular problem among both newly driving teens and teens in general. A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reports that although teens begin their driving career cautiously, they quickly begin to multi-task – texting, dialing cell phones, talking to passengers – while driving. Moreover, they do so at higher rates than adults. (The US Department of Transportation says that drivers under age 20 text more while driving more than any other age group.) Such distracted driving coupled with inexperience of the driver drastically increases the risk of crashes and near-misses.
Teens that drive with other teenage passengers in the car are at heightened risk for an accident. The CDC notes that the risk of crashing increases with the number of teens in the car. Being male is also a significant risk factor: the death rate for male drivers age 16 -19 in 2010 was almost twice that of their female counterparts.
What can parents do to keep their teens safe this summer?
Limit the number of teens allowed as passengers
Under New York law, a junior licensed driver may not have more than one passenger under the age 21 in the car unless a parent, guardian or driving instructor is in the vehicle, or unless the passenger is a member of the immediate family. Once your teen is beyond the junior license stage, parents should seriously consider limiting the number of teen passenger in the vehicle when your child is the driver. In summertime, this is a particular risk as teens have more free time and are more likely to want to pick up friends and go.
Encourage your teen to buckle up
Teens have a high number of injuries in crashes because they don’t wear seat belts as often as adults do. The CDC reports that in 2010, 56% of drivers aged 15-20 that were killed in motor vehicle crashes were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
Restrict driving times
According to the NYS Department of Health, teens between 16 -17 are far more likely to die in crashes between 9pm and midnight, while the largest proportion of all crashes involving teens occur between midnight and 5am. You can protect your teen by limiting night driving to essential trips only, unless he or she has gained experience and demonstrated responsible driving behavior. But consider limiting day driving as well. Because teens aren’t in school during summer, the amount of time they spend behind the wheel tends to increase, which leads to more accidents.
Set a good example
Your driving behavior is going to communicate volumes louder than words. There’s no point in telling your child not to text and drive if you do it yourself. Make sure that you observe good driving habits: avoid talking on the handheld phone or texting while driving (both are illegal anyway); pull over to adjust your navigation system, and keep your eyes on the road at all times.
Sign “the pledge” with your teen
The NYS Department of Motor Vehicles has a written agreement that can help you and your teen establish and clarify family rules about driving. With this agreement, both you and your teen will know what is expected when behind the wheel, and the consequences if they violate those rules. Both parents and child sign the pledge and promise to adhere to those rules.
For more information on how to keep your teen driver safe, read NYS DMV’s: “The Parent Guide to Teen Driving”.
If you or your teen has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, speak to an experienced Albany personal injury lawyer to discuss your rights. Contact me, Paul Giannetti, today at (866) 868-2960 or contact me online.