A first-ever analysis from AAA finds that crashes involving teen drivers ages 15 to 17 cost American society more than $34 billion annually in medical expenses, lost work, property damage, quality of life loss and other related costs in 2006.
"The impact of a teen crash extends beyond the emotional tragedies and physical injury at the crash scene, with costs that can extend to employers, families, the government and society overall," says Jack Peet, community safety services manager for AAA Michigan. "These economic figures provide one more reason for legislators to improve graduated driver licensing laws in their states."
One key improvement would be to limit the number of teen passengers allowed in a vehicle driven by a teen or novice driver.
According to a March 2008 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when teenage drivers transport passengers there is a greatly increased crash risk, with greater risk associated with more passengers. In fact, when there are multiple passengers, the crash risk is 3 to 5 times greater.
The risk is also greater for younger drivers (age 16 and 17). The study sponsored by NHTSA found that in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, passenger restrictions reduced crashes among 16-year-old drivers. Crash involvement per 1,000 16-year-old drivers fell from 1.07 to 0.85 in California after passenger restrictions were passed. The reduction was from 0.88 to 0.61 in Massachusetts and from 1.41 to 1.10 in Virginia.
In Michigan, there are currently no passenger limits in place. Rep. Edward Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms, has sponsored HB 4151, which would limit the number of teen passengers to one. The bill has been referred to the legislature's Transportation committee. Another bill would prohibit 16-year-old drivers from using cell phones while driving. Cell phones and teen passengers are among the most worrisome sources of distraction for teen drivers.
New research by AAA shows an alarmingly high number of teens admit to engaging in very risky behavior behind the wheel. Some of these behaviors — like driving under the influence — are problems the safety community has battled for years. Others — like text messaging while driving — are new behaviors. They all pose a threat to road users and must be corrected by teens, parents and safe driving educators for the safety of teens and everyone else who uses our roadways.
"Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of teens, claiming more than 6,000 15- to 20-year-olds each year," says Peet. "Many of these deadly crashes are due to immaturity and inexperience, factors that can be partially addressed by helping teens gain valuable driving experience in a low-risk learning environment."
A low-risk learning environment includes:
According to Peet, teens need parents to be positive role models and to play active roles in their driving lives. In addition to spending ample time in the vehicle during the learner's permit stage of licensing, parents also need to start a dialogue with their teens to discuss leading risk factors for teens and how to prevent them. Discussions can begin with topics parents may already be familiar with such as obeying speed limits, wearing seat belts, and the dangers of drinking or using other drugs and driving. These topics can lead to discussions of the hazards of driving at night, and various driving distractions such as teen passengers and cell phones.
To help teens improve their driving skills, parents can purchase AAA's Driver-ZED Teen Driving kit, which includes an interactive DVD and a parent/teen contract that encourages teens to become more responsible drivers. The kit is available at any full-service AAA branch. A nominal fee of $10 is charged for members, $15 for non-members. For parents and teens seeking help with the 50-hour behind the wheel practice phase of driver education, AAA also offers a "Teaching Your Teens to Drive" handbook and DVD at $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To order, call (800) 646-4222.
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