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AAA Foundation Study Finds Teen Driving Puts Others at Risk

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Diagram from AAA Foundation study

Diagram from AAA Foundation study

A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that young drivers pose a significant hazard to others on the road, writes Paul A. Eisenstein for NBC News. Almost two-thirds of the nearly 3,000 people killed and the nearly 400,000 injured every year in crashes involving teen drivers are people who are not teenaged, the study shows.

Victims of teen-involved car accidents include pedestrians, cyclists, and occupants of other vehicles, the report says. Eisenstein writes:

The release of the new study coincides with the start of what safety experts have dubbed ‘The 100 Deadliest Days,’ the period between Memorial and Labor Day when young drivers are out of school, driving more, and more likely to have a motor vehicle accident.

The study, authored by Brian C. Tefft, senior research associate for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, looks at changes and trends in the number of teen drivers ages 15 to 19 who were involved in police-reported crashes each year from 1994 through 2013. It also quantifies the number of those drivers, their passengers, occupants of other vehicles, and pedestrians and bicyclists who were injured and killed in those crashes.

Teen drivers are involved in more crashes per driver and per mile driven than drivers in any other age group, the study says. However, the number of people killed each year in teen driver crashes declined by 56%, and the number of people injured annually in teen driver crashes declined by 51% between 1994 and 2013, the study finds. Many of the declines in injuries and deaths took place between 2004 and 2013, the study says.

Decreases in crash involvement were the largest in young teens, ages 15 and 16, the study finds, noting that 15-year-old drivers were involved in far fewer crashes than older teen drivers. Reasons for all of the declines are not entirely clear, the study says. Its speculations on the reasons for the declines include that many studies have shown that strong state Graduated Drivers License (GDL) programs have made a substantial contribution to reducing serious accidents among drivers ages 15 through 17; and rising gasoline prices and the 2008 economic recession resulted in a reduction in teen driving, and thus a reduction in teen crashes.

Eisenstein writes that the high number of teen crashes has been attributed to the young drivers’ lack of experience behind the wheel and “youthful exuberence.” But distracted driving is also a major cause of teen crashes, he adds, noting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that distracted driving causes about 11% of all motor vehicle accidents. Another study by the AAA Foundation found that distracted driving causes nearly 6 out of every 10 moderate-to-severe teen traffic accidents, Eisenstein writes.

GDL programs restrict the number of young people a teen driver can have as passengers, Eisenstein writes, which helps reduce the incidence of crashes. That is because, as the AAA Foundation has found, each passenger under age 21 in a vehicle driven by a teen exponentially increases the risk of a crash, he writes.

As this blog wrote last month, Matt Nasworthy, the auto club’s group traffic safety consultant, said it is very important for states to review their GDL and distracted driving laws to provide as much protection as possible for teen drivers. Colorado’s GDL laws provide for the following, according to Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association:

Colorado’s first graduated driver’s licensing laws went into effect July 1, 1999. The law required teens to drive supervised a minimum of six months with their instruction permits, log 50 hours of driving time with parents or driving instructors (including 10 nighttime hours), no driving for drivers under age 17 between midnight and 5 a.m., and young licensed drivers had to limit passengers to the number of seatbelts in the car. Since then, laws were passed that limit passengers riding with inexperienced drivers, prohibit use of cell phones while driving, and require seatbelts for all occupants under age 18.

You can find more information on Colorado Teen Driving here.


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