EDITORIAL: Crash puts focus on the dangers facing teen drivers

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Perhaps this bit of news went unnoticed by many people among the stories of shootings and arrests.

But it’s one we should all be concerned about, especially the parents of teenagers.

It happened Friday afternoon on Route 68 in the Washington County town of White Creek near New York’s border with Shaftsbury, Vt.

Five school girls from Mount Anthony Union High School in Vermont — two of them age 15 and three of them 16 — were all in a Honda Accord together when the vehicle left the westbound lane, swerved back onto the roadway, went into a ditch and flipped over. Police say speed was a factor.

No one died in the crash. Yet you can’t really call this a near tragedy, since two young girls were hospitalized, one critically and one seriously.

But you could call it a preventable one.

About 3,000 teens die every year in traffic accidents. About 20 percent of 16 year-olds will be involved in an accident in their first year of driving, according to federal transportation officials.

Novice teen drivers are twice as likely as adult drivers to be in a fatal crash. In 2020, teen drivers accounted for 8.5 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes, even though they represented only 5.1 percent of all drivers.

Police haven’t released the circumstances of the White Creek crash other than that speed was a factor. But we do know there were two 16-year-olds and three 15-year-olds in that car —an inherently dangerous situation for a number of reasons.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), teenage drivers are more likely than others to engage in risky behaviors while driving with at least one teenage peer in the car with them.

The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in one or more risky behaviors when traveling with multiple passengers increased to three times compared to when driving alone. And the risk of a fatal crash rises in direct relation to the number of teens in the car.

Speed was the only factor cited in this crash, so let’s just focus on speed for a second.

In 2020, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, speed was a factor in 31% of fatal crashes involving teens age 15-18. And teenagers are likely to increase their speeding as they get more confident behind the wheel.

Another factor: Seat belts. Police in the White Creek crash say the two passengers most seriously injured were ejected from the vehicle and were not wearing seat belts. According to the NHTSA, seat belt use is lowest among teen drivers. In 2020, 52% of teen drivers who died in crashes were unbuckled.

As for the other potential dangers to consider: One in three teens say they have texted while driving. Dialing a phone number while driving increases a teen’s risk of crashing by six times, and texting increases the risk by 23 times.

Let’s not forget about driving under the influence. Seventeen percent of 16- to 20-year-olds in fatal crashes had blood-alcohol levels of 0.08 or higher, and 20 percent of teens had ridden with an impaired driver in the previous month.

We hope the prospect of what could have happened here scares enough parents to talk to their teen drivers about the dangers, prohibit them from texting, using their phones or driving under the influence, limit their passengers and beg them to wear their seat belts.

Please don’t let your kids make the news for this reason. Talk to them. Keep them safe.

Click here for a link to the regulations regarding young drivers in New York state. 

Categories: Editorial, Opinion, Opinion

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