Teen Driver Safety Increases
April 4, 2013

Are Teenagers Becoming Better, Safer Drivers?

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Although car crashes are still the leading cause of death for teens, risky behaviors for teenage drivers and car passengers are on their way down, according to a new survey from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm.

In a report based on the survey, the research team said the reduction in reported risky behaviors is translating into higher safety records for society´s youngest drivers.

"When most people think about those affected by teen driver crashes, they think of teens behind the wheel. This report includes encouraging news about teen passengers, who are often left out of the teen driver safety picture," said report co-author Dr. Dennis Durbin, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP. "When you see the needle move, as we have in this report, it's time to apply the gas on programs that encourage safe teen passenger behaviors, as well as those that address what causes teens to crash."

According to the report, 54 percent of teenagers surveyed in 2011 reported "always" buckling up when sitting in the passenger seat. From 2008 to 2011, the number of teens who said they were driven by a peer who had been drinking dropped by about 14 percent.

The authors of the report drew a direct connection to safer driving outcomes for teens. For example, the number of teen passengers who died in crashes not wearing safety belts dropped by 23 percent and 30 percent fewer teen passengers died in crashes involving a teen driver. The researchers also found a 47 percent drop in teen driver-related deaths over the past six years.

The report also found a high prevalence of risky behaviors such as texting or emailing while driving, speeding, and driving after drinking. According to the report, one-third of teens said they have recently texted or emailed while driving.

"Texting or emailing while driving is especially dangerous for teen drivers. We are encouraged that abstaining from cell phone use while driving is currently the norm for teens — most are not doing this dangerous behavior," says Dr. Durbin. "To reach the teens that still do text or email while driving, messages should focus on teens' positive safety beliefs about refraining from cell phone use while driving, rather than turning to scare tactics that always emphasize the negative consequences."

The percentage of teen driver crashes in which speed was a factor remained the same as in 2008, nearly half. Sadly, the percentage of teens in fatal crashes with a blood alcohol level about 0.01 increased -- from 38 percent to 41 percent.

Another section of the report gave good grades to Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs, in which teens are directed to drive at first under adult supervision and only during the day before receiving full driver´s license privileges.

“While this report highlights the gains we are making, we still can do much more to reduce teen driver crash-related injuries and deaths," says Chris Mullen, director of Technology Research, Strategic Resources at State Farm. "Promising strategies include programs that encourage parents to enforce GDL provisions limiting the number of friends their newly licensed teens may drive, as well as those that support safe passenger behavior and increased parental involvement in the learning to drive process."