Teen deaths in traffic accidents still remain a national tragedy

Guest Editorial
Among the many heart-breaking consequences of our fast-paced, distracted lives are the deaths of young people on the nation’s roads.

In 2008, according to federal government statistics, nine teens between the ages of 16 and 19 died every day on the nation’s highways. That’s nearly 3,300 young lives lost annually. In addition, more than 350,000 youngsters were treated in hospitals for traffic accident injuries.

Per mile driven, teen drivers in that 16- to 19-year-old age group are four times more likely than older drivers to cause accidents.

People between the ages of 15 and 24 represent roughly 14 percent of the U.S. population. However, that age group accounts for 30 percent of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males, and 28 percent of the total costs of traffic injuries among females.

Recently, there has been some good news. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood updated fatality and injury data showing that, in 2009, highway deaths fell to 33,808, the lowest number since 1950. And that record-breaking decline in traffic fatalities occurred even while estimated vehicle miles traveled in 2009 increased by 0.2 percent over 2008 levels.

Government statistics show that, among teen drivers, those at especially high risk are:

• Males: In 2006, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers, ages 15 to 19, was almost two times that of their female counterparts.

• The presence of teen passengers increases the likelihood of an accident.

• Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use.

In 2005, 10 percent of high school students reported they rarely or never wore seat belts when riding with someone else. Young females were more likely to wear seat belts than males.

How can deaths and injuries resulting from crashes involving teen drivers be prevented?

Part of the answer is in driver education.

There are proven methods to help teens become safer drivers. Research suggests that the most comprehensive graduated drivers licensing, or GDL, programs are associated with significant reductions of fatal and injury crashes among 16-year-old drivers.

We should also point out that all teen drivers are not bad drivers. Countless numbers of them are good and careful drivers who obey the law.

The fact remains, however, that an average of nearly 100 drivers of all ages are dying every day in traffic accidents across the country.

With increased public awareness, an application of best practices and effective driver education, perhaps these tragic numbers will continue on a downward trend.