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Teen Drivers’ Greatest Danger: Distractions

I took this from a series of articles that originally ran in USA Today several years ago. It highlights the dangers posed by cell phones, video games and even other teen passengers when an inexperienced (ie, teen) driver is at the wheel. Sixteen year old drivers kill almost 1,000 people every year including themselves, their passengers, other drivers and even pedestrians. In terms of driving fatalities as a marker for driving ineptitude, 16 year olds are the worst drivers on the road (big surprise, huh?) Seventeen year olds are the third worst, and the group in the middle are 80 years old and up. So, a 78 year old, statistically, is a better driver than a 16 or 17 year old. And it’s not even really all that close.

Distractions challenge teen drivers
Posted 1/25/2007 6:01 AM ET
By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY

Teenagers understand the danger of drinking and driving but still don’t grasp the risks of driver distractions such as cellphones, loud music and young passengers, says an extensive new study of teen habits behind the wheel.

About 90% of the teens surveyed say they rarely or never drink and drive, although 50% say they have seen other teens do so, according to the study released today by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Companies. Much higher percentages say they have seen peers speeding, driving while fatigued or dealing with distractions such as loud music and “passengers acting wild.”
The research sought to get inside vehicles with young drivers and their passengers by surveying 5,665 ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders from 68 randomly selected schools across the nation. The survey is part of a growing effort by child- and auto-safety advocates, insurance companies and others to cut teen driving deaths.

“Probably the most significant finding is that the environment inside the vehicle is very different from what adults might expect,” says Laurette Stiles, State Farm’s vice president for strategic resources. “Teens have a very challenging (driving) environment, which would challenge even an experienced driver.”

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The nation’s 12.5 million young drivers — those ages 15 to 20 — account for 6.3% of 198.9 million licensed drivers in the USA, according to 2005 NHTSA data, the most recent available. But 12.6% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were in that age group.

Earlier research has shown that teen drivers carrying one teen passenger face double the risk of a fatal crash as teens driving alone. That risk increases to five times as likely for teen drivers with two or more passengers.

Sandy Coble, 47, of Jackson, Tenn., knows all about that risk. His only son, MacKenzie Allen Coble, 15, was one of three teens killed in a 2005 crash. None of the teens was wearing seat belts, he says. “Instead of picking out school clothes, I was picking out a casket.”