Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States; the risk factors causing them, however, have changed. While in years past speeding, neglecting to wear safety belts, and driving impaired frequently contributed to teen traffic fatalities, a recently released government survey indicates that distraction may be the new killer.
“At present, technology appears to pose as much of a threat to teen drivers as alcohol and drugs, if not a greater one,” commented California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
Of the more than 15,000 U.S. high school students surveyed, 1 in 3 reported that they had texted or emailed while driving a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Distracted driving claimed the lives of 3,092 people and injured another 416,000 in 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA reports that 11 percent of drivers under the age of 20 involved in deadly accidents were distracted at the time of the crash, with this age group accounting for the highest incidence of distracted driving.
Other surveys have corroborated the CDC’s findings: the Pew Research Center indicated that 40 percent of teens surveyed said they had been in a car with a driver who used a cell phone in a manner that endangered others.
Over the years, state and federal government agencies have worked aggressively to combat the risky behaviors common to teen drivers, and the CDC’s survey indicates that such efforts have proven successful:
•The percentage of high school students who never or rarely wore a seatbelt declined from 26 in 1991 to 8 in 2011.
•The percentage of students who said they had ridden in a vehicle with a driver who had been consuming alcohol during the past 30 days dropped from 40 in 1991 to 24 in 2011.
•From 1997 to 2011, the percentage of students who had driven while drinking alcohol in the past 30 days declined from 17 to 8.
Hopefully, just as education and enforcement campaigns have helped to sway teens not to engage in these risky behaviors while driving, they will influence them not to talk, text, or email while behind the wheel either.
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