Study: Car Accidents Are the No. 1 Killer of American Teens

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Auto accidents are the leading cause of death among American teens, according to a new study that surveyed more than 1,000 people between ages 13 and 19 in an effort to learn more about why these crashes happen.

According to the study, “Teens In Cars,” an estimated 2,439 teens died in car accidents in the U.S. in 2012. Fifty-six percent of these fatalities were drivers, and 44 percent were passengers. More than half were not wearing seatbelts.

Based on that figure, the study concludes that motor vehicle crashes kill more people between the ages of 13 and 19 than cancer, heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases and congenital anomalies combined. They also cause more teen deaths than homicide and suicide.

Why Do Teen Traffic Fatalities Occur?

The June 2014 study was published by Safe Kids Worldwide – an organization dedicated to preventing child injuries. The General Motors Foundation provided financial support for the study.

At the heart of the study is a survey of teens that sought to gauge their perceptions of driving and to identify pressing safety issues.

For instance, the researchers asked teenagers how often they have been in vehicles with a driver that was using a phone while behind the wheel. Forty percent said they rode with a distracted teenage driver. More than half said they had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by an adult who was driving while talking on the phone.

Another safety issue identified in the study is the use of seat belts. Many teens simply are not using them. Among the 1,357 teen drivers, 1,065 teen passengers, and 17 other occupants killed in 2012, 46.8 of the drivers were not wearing seat belts and 54.2 percent of the passengers were not buckled up, the study found.

In non-fatal accidents, the researchers found a similar pattern but on a much smaller scale. Six percent of drivers and about 11 percent of passengers in these accidents were not wearing seat belts. The researchers surmise that seat belt use is likely the factor saving those teens’ lives in accidents.

However, one out of four teens surveyed said they do not use a seat belt every time they are in the car and riding with a teen driver without an adult present.

Interestingly, the teens who admit to not wearing seat belts are more likely to come from families where the parents don’t always buckle up, the study found. Many admit it isn’t a habit, so they often forget.

According to the study, this demonstrates the need for parents to practice the habit of buckling up and making sure that their children do as well when their children are young and into their teenage years.

When asked about riding with teen drivers, teen passengers admitted to witnessing dangerous driving. For instance:

  • 43 percent rode while a teen driver was talking on the phone
  • 42 percent rode with a teen driver that was driving recklessly
  • 39 percent rode with a texting teen driver
  • 10 percent rode with a teen that had been drinking or using drugs.

Parents Play Important Role in Teen Driver Safety

Perhaps surprisingly, teen passengers also had troubling things to say about riding with adults:

  • 57 percent admitted to riding with an adult driver who talked on the phone
  • 24 percent said they rode with an adult who drove recklessly
  • 28 percent were passengers with an adult driver who texted behind the wheel
  • 8 percent rode with an adult driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

As the survey indicates, parents have some work to do if they hope to raise responsible drivers. Setting good examples begins early in life, as parents can have the biggest influence on their child’s future behavior.

Parents can also set rules and guidelines for their teens in order to keep them safe – whether they are driving or riding with another teen.

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