Editorial: Everyone buckle up

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenageers, and summer is the most dangerous time for teen drivers, especially young men, who account for 75% of teen drivers killed in car crashes.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, from Memorial Day to Labor Day new teen drivers are three times as likely as adults to be involved in deadly crashes. That’s an increase of 15% over the rest of the year.

The main reasons given are:

  • Distractions — primarily talking to passengers and interacting with smartphones — which plays a role in nearly six out of 10 teen crashes.
  • Driving/riding unbuckled in a vehicle. In 2015 — the latest data available — 60% of teen drivers killed weren’t wearing a seat belt.
  • Speeding is a factor in nearly 30% of fatal crashes involving teen drivers.

The conclusion makes sense since teens are out of school and on the road. Their inexperience, coupled with driving more often, can lead to accidents.

Based on 2015 crash data, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports an increase of more than 10% in teen fatal crashes from the previous year.

Research from Safe Kids Worldwide and General Motors Foundation reveals parents can play an important role in reducing this risky behavior by talking with their teens, enforcing safe driving rules, and modeling good behavior.

This research shows that when parents and teens discuss and agree on rules for driving, teens are less likely to engage in risky behavior while driving. For instance, teens who have an established family rule against drinking and driving were 10 times less likely to do so than those who didn’t have an established rule. Contrast that with teens who see a parent drive after drinking. They are three times more likely to do the same.

Not surprisingly, teens reported their parents had the most influence on their driving and  the time teens spent practicing driving with their parents was the most helpful.

The bottom line: parents need to discuss safe driving habits, set and enforce rules of the road, and most importantly, model good behavior themselves. That means staying off the phone, buckling one’s seatbelt, stopping at stop signs, and observing speed limits.

AAA has a website — TeenDriving.AAA.com — which offers tools to prepare parents and teens for the dangerous summer driving season. The online AAA StartSmart program also offers resources for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches and  advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges.

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