Recent research shows that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause
of death for older children and teens in the United States. Resulting
in more deaths for this age group than the next three causes combined,
motor vehicle crashes are considered the most serious health threat for
older children and teens. (According to a study released this month in
the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.)
Researchers examined 45,560 crashes involving 8- to 17-year-old passengers. Between 2000 and 2005, 9,807 passengers in this age group died in crashes.
"We saw a clear tipping point between ages 12 and 14, where child passengers became much more likely to die in a crash than their younger counterparts," says Flaura Koplin-Winston, M.D., Ph.D., founder and co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP. "Long before these children ever receive a learner's permit, they begin to exhibit a pattern that looks more like the high fatality rates we see for teen drivers."
With passengers between ages 12 - 16 dying at a higher rate than younger children, it is necessary for adults to intervene long before a teenager receives their learner's permit. In the United States, one in four crash fatalities involve someone aged 16 to 24 years old. With the risk increasing with each teenage year, now is the time for someone to step in. Helping to bring these staggering findings to the public are The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm Insurance.
Of the nearly 10,000 passenger
deaths studied by the CHOP researchers, more than half (54.4 percent)
were riding with a driver under age 20; nearly two-thirds were
unrestrained; and more than three-quarters of the crashes occurred on
roads with posted speed limits above 45-miles- per-hour. Alcohol was
also a factor in one-fifth of the fatal crashes. Previous research has
shown that as children grow into adolescence, they are more likely to
ride in cars with drivers other than their parents, such as classmates,
friends, or older siblings.
After controlling for a variety of factors, researchers found key predictors that pose the greatest risk to older child passengers. "Riding with drivers younger than 16 years old, not wearing seat belts, and riding on higher speed roads are the three biggest factors contributing to an older child being killed in a crash," says Dr. Winston. "Knowing the risks can help parents and teens make smart decisions about which rides are safe, and which ones are off limits."
"We should not accept teen crash deaths as random accidents," says Laurette Stiles, vice president of Strategic Resources of State Farm. "These deaths are preventable. Our hope is that teens, parents, and policymakers will work together to develop a culture of safe, smart passengers by providing guidance, and reinforcing safe behaviors throughout the teen years."
CHOP researchers recommend these tips to help parents protect their children from an unsafe driving situation:
1. Insist on seat belts. All occupants should buckle up on every trip, every time.
2. Set a good example. Don't drink and drive. Avoid distractions like cell phones. Obey the speed limit.
3. Set rules about safe passenger behaviors. Discuss what's helpful or distracting to a driver.
4. Monitor your child's travel. Know where he or she is going, with whom, how they are getting there, and when they will be home.
5. Know and trust the driver. It's not safe for your child to ride with a teen who has less than one year of driving experience.
In addition, Dr. Winston says that changes in policy, coupled with enforcement, can help to protect teen drivers and their passengers. Optimal graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws that emphasize a lengthened learner's phase beginning at 16, as well as nighttime driving and passenger restrictions during the intermediate phase can help reduce the risk for teens. Primary seat belt laws for all occupants to at least age 18 are also recommended.
For detailed information on strategies you can use to help make your teenager a safer driver, log onto www.chop.edu/youngdrivers As a result of the study, CHOP and State Farm are able to offer evidence-based guidelines to parents and policymakers to help protect this vulnerable age group. The prevention strategies on this site are designed to keep teens - and the roadways - safer, including such topics as "Practical Tips On How to Teach Safe Driving," "A Timeline for Parent-Guided Driving Lessons," "Ways to Know When A Teen Is Ready to Drive Alone," and "Cutting-Edge Research On Teenage Driving Risks."