According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the leading cause of death among 16- to 20-year-olds is motor vehicle-related crashes.
Consider the following statistics from the CDC and discuss them with your teen before he or she gets behind the wheel of a car:
- The largest proportion of adolescent injuries are due to motor vehicle crashes.
- Adolescents are far less likely to use seat belts than any other age group.
- When adolescents drive after drinking alcohol, they are more likely than adults to be involved in a crash, even when drinking less alcohol than adults.
- Adolescents also cause a disproportionate number of deaths among nonadolescent drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
Following are the two main reasons why teenage drivers are at increased risk for motor vehicle-related crashes that result in injury or death:
- Lack of driving experience. Lack of experience means the teenage driver is less able to detect and respond to traffic hazards and is less in control of his/her vehicle.
- Risk behavior of teenagers. Teenagers tend to take more risks as they are influenced by their emotions, stress, and peer pressure. In addition, experimenting with alcohol and recreational drugs can impair the teenager's driving ability. Also, teenage drivers tend to not use their seat belts, increasing their risk of injury in a crash.
Another factor contributing to the increased risk to teenage drivers is nighttime driving. Nighttime driving is more difficult for anyone, especially the novice driver. However, teenagers tend to do disproportionately more driving at night, increasing their risk of a fatal motor vehicle crash, as compared to daytime driving.
The AAP has made the following recommendations to pediatricians, in coordination with parents, to ensure safer teenage driving:
- Emphasize to both parents and teenagers how important safe driving is, including the fact that teenagers need to develop driving skills with supervised practice.
- Set a good driving example as an adult.
- Establish limits on your teenager's driving privileges, such as a limiting the number of passengers and/or restricting nighttime driving.
- Impose penalties for irresponsible driving behavior.
- Supervise teenage drivers in vehicles.
- Make sure the vehicle is mechanically safe.
- Get involved in community advocacy, such as helping coordinate alcohol-free events, to help support parent-peer initiatives and help teenagers avoid negative peer pressure.
- Support legislative advocacy that targets a reduction in motor vehicle crashes among teenage drivers, such as graduated licensing systems and stricter minimum driving age laws.
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