Fatal car crashes are always tragic, but fatal accidents are even more devastating when they involve teenagers. For this reason, state and federal governments have worked to decrease the number of teens who die each year in car crashes. Since the mid-90’s they have been largely successful, but now new information has come to light.
Preliminary data for teen deaths in car crashes for the first six months of 2011 showed a disturbing new trend. For the first time in 8 years, the number of teen deaths isn’t decreasing; it’s increasing. The first six months have showed an 11% increase in teen fatalities from 190 to 211 deaths. The increase has not been uniform across the country. Some states have stayed the same or even seen a decrease in deaths, but it is the overall percentage increase and the fact that the adult fatalities have simultaneously decreased that concerns officials.
Why the increase?
No one is quite sure yet what’s causing the increase. There are several different theories and it may be that it’s a combination of different factors. We’ll know more after the data for the second half of 2011 is collected.
1. The Economy – Better is Worse
There may actually be a downside to the economy getting stronger. Now that families are doing better and gas prices aren’t as high as they were in 2008, it’s more affordable for teens to drive recreationally. More teens on the road have unfortunately created more fatal incidents.
2. Graduated Drivers Licenses (GDL) Effects Leveling Off
GDLs are state programs that give new drivers only certain privileges and often require potential drivers to have more experience before earning their license. In most states, a potential driver might have to have a permit for at least 6 months. Other common restrictions include not having any other teens in the car and having a curfew at night for the first 6 months or even 1 year after receiving a license.
- When graduated licenses first started being introduced in the mid-90s up to the mid-2000s, there was a huge drop off in teen deaths. Decreases were up to 20% or 40%.
- For example, in 1995 there were 1,015 deaths for teens 16 or 17 years old, while in 2010 after GDL programs that number was down to 408.
Now that GDL programs are common throughout the country and are being reinforced on a regular basis, researchers are wondering if the downward trend is finally leveling off. Have we gotten all the benefits we can from GDLs?
3. Distracted Driving – More Ways Not to Pay Attention
Distracted driving has increased for all drivers. After all, with iPhones and GPSs there are more devices than ever to take a driver’s attention off the road. The National Transportation and Safety Board has already called for a national ban on cell phone use (even with hands off devices) while driving a vehicle.
- Teens are one of the largest groups who use portable electronic devices and are found texting while on the road.
- Teen drivers are more likely than other age groups to be involved in a fatal crash where distraction is reported. In 2009, 16% of teen drivers involved in a fatal crash were reported to have been distracted.
- 40% of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger.
How do we stop the increase in teen deaths and improve safety?
Across the country organizations, politicians and citizens are working to make a difference.
1. Federal Help
The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the organization who first compiled the research on the increase in teen driving fatalities, is looking to Congress to help combat this national problem.
In the past, the federal government has been instrumental in offering states incentives to pass new laws that would increase teen safety. Focusing on efforts to institute GDLs and prevent drunk driving.
- Congress is currently in the process of writing and passing a new transportation bill. The bill will affect everyone from truck drivers, commuters, bicyclists, pedestrians and those who use public transportation. The bill has the opportunity to influence states to cut down on dangers like distracted driving.
- Unfortunately, the going is slow and those in the transportation industry worry that the bill will not even be finished in time to make the March 31st deadline. If that happens, the federal government may not provide the assistance that GHSA is looking for.
2. Industry Help – Car Makers Step Up to Keep Us Safe
After Federal guidelines and bills, it’s up to the car manufactures to institute change. Change will be based on what is called a “2-second rule.” The idea is that any task that takes a driver more than 2 seconds to do or can’t be completed in brief 2-second intervals shouldn’t be allowed.
- The same cars that boasted the first built-in GPSs will continue to alter new models so that the GPS can only be activated when the vehicle is stopped.
- If the auto industry follows new guidelines, the car will prevent drivers from using factory installed devices to text, browse, use social media or dial phone numbers.
3. State Help – Keep Texan Teens Safe
On the more local level, state officials and citizens can help to cut down on the big factors involved in teen crashes: driving at night, distracted driving, driving while under the influence and lack of seat belt use.
- In Texas, the curfew for 16 year-old drivers is midnight to 5 am. The GHSA found that risks increase after dark, much earlier than midnight. If you have or work with a teenage driver please encourage him or her to get off the roads before dark.
- Earlier curfews are also important because 90% of accidents involving alcohol occur at night.
- Distracted driving risks also include having other teens in the car. Most graduated licenses limit the number of other teen passengers other than family members.
- Alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs in high schools are essential. When local and federal funding fail to offer enough assistance, private sponsors like insurance companies and local businesses give teachers the resources they need to enact change. Be a supporter of a local program.
- Teens are much more likely not to use seat belts than adults are. Data from 2008 showed that 20% of teens don’t wear a seatbelt.
- More than half of the teens involved in fatal crashes in 2009 weren’t buckled in.
- Some school programs have been successful in reinforcing the importance of seat-belt laws by offering candy and cash prizes to those who are vigilant about seatbelts.
Texas has the highest number of fatal teen crashes in the country. In the first six months of 2010 alone there were 22 deaths. Compare that to the second highest number at 11 in North Carolina. Look at safety education materials on Texas Department of Transportation’s web page or at Teens in the Driver’s Seat for more info on how to promote safety. Remember, if you or teen driver have been involved in an accident, contact a Dallas car accident attorney discuss your legal options.