Sunday marked the beginning of National Teen Driver Safety Week, and its arrival reminds us of a sobering fact: traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America.
Too many young people are driving without their seat belts, under the influence, or with cell phones in hand. Consider some numbers:
- 16-to-20-year olds are twice as likely to be killed in a crash involving alcohol, two and a half times more likely to die while driving or riding unbuckled, and three times as likely as the average American to die in a speed-related crash.
- 18% of all teen motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2008 involved distracted driving.
- One in three teens who text say they have done so while driving.
- 70% of 13-to-15-year-olds killed in traffic crashes in 2008 were not using seat belts--the highest percentage of all age groups.
- Mile for mile, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers.
These statistics are alarming. And, while overall traffic fatalities have declined in recent years, teenagers are still our most inexperienced drivers--and they're the most likely to engage in risky behaviors behind the wheel.
At the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), we're using a diversified safety approach that supports good laws, strong enforcement, education, and parental involvement to reduce the number of young driver fatalities on our roadways.
To date, 46 states and the District of Columbia have a three-stage GDL system in place, and analysis shows that these laws will lead to substantial decreases of crashes for young drivers--anywhere from 20% to 50%.
We're also working to combat a relatively new factor that is playing a role in too many car accidents: distracted driving. As Secretary LaHood has said on countless occasions, cell phone use behind the wheel is an epidemic on America's roadways-- especially among our youngest drivers.
That's why the slogan for this year's National Teen Driver Safety Week is “Keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and your thumbs off your phone’s key pad.”
It's encouraging that 28 states and DC already have laws on the books banning cell phone use by novice drivers. But, good laws aren't enough--we need to change minds and habits. Texting and talking on cell phones may feel like second nature to a tech-savvy generation, but it has no place on our shared roadways.
That's where families come in. Just as we count on parents to tell their kids to never drink and drive and always use seat belts, we're counting on them again to teach young people to put their cell phones down while driving.
As parents, we can and must set the example. Each of us must take responsibility for ourselves and our loved ones. So, when it comes time to hand over the keys to the young driver in your life, please make sure you have set standards for safe driving--in words and in action.
It's every driver's responsibility to use our roadways safely. But our work doesn't stop there. It's also our responsibility to ensure our youngest and most at risk drivers have the tools and experience they need to make good decisions behind the wheel. The stakes couldn't be higher.