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Friends gather at a roadside memorial for a teen victim of a fatal car accident
Teen Voice

Top Cause of Teen Deaths: Car Crashes

-- Gabrielle Loeb

‘Ride Like A Friend’ campaign targets risks for teen drivers and passengers during National Teen Driver Safety Week, Oct. 19 to 25

Car crashes continue to be the number one cause of death among teens, claiming over 5,000 lives annually. Although speeding, drinking, talking on a cell phone, and driving at night are all well-known factors contributing to car crashes, peer passengers are just as dangerous for teen drivers and far less acknowledged. Studies have confirmed the connection between teen drivers transporting peer passengers and increased risk of fatal crashes. In fact, the presence of one passenger doubles the fatal crash risk for a teen driver and the risk increases with each additional passenger, yet recent research shows few teens recognize the impact passengers have on driver safety.

To combat this trend, many organizations nationwide are launching “Ride Like A Friend,” a campaign to promote safe passenger behaviors. The campaign will take place during National Teen Driver Safety Week, October 19 to 25.

“Ride Like A Friend” will include activities that showcase what teens can do as passengers to reduce the risk of a crash. Teens can help friends who are driving by keeping distractions to a minimum, wearing seatbelts and helping with directions when asked.

“To develop Ride Like A Friend Campaign, we asked hundreds of teens about what makes passengers helpful or dangerous for drivers,” says Flaura K. Winston, MD PhD, the Scientific Director at The Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “They offered very practical ways to help their friends stay focused when driving. For them, it was about respecting their friends.”

The focus on passengers grew from a study published by CHOP in partnership with State Farm Insurance Companies®. In a national survey of 5,665 9th- to 11th-graders, CHOP and State Farm found that few teens view their friends as inexperienced drivers and even fewer believe that having passengers can significantly affect driver safety. Other research has shown that simple “rookie” mistakes or driver error attributed to inexperience are a major cause of teen crashes.

This year’s National Teen Driver Safety Week is taking a two-pronged approach to address the risk of teens driving teens. The “Ride Like A Friend” campaign is being rolled out in schools nationwide to encourage passenger behaviors that can reduce teens’ crash risk. In addition, National Teen Driver Safety Week organizers are urging parents and teen advocates to support graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws that restrict passengers for at least the first six months of licensure. Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia have limits on passengers, ranging from none to two during the first six to 12 months of independent driving. “Those first six months of independent driving are the most dangerous that a driver will face in his or her lifetime,” says Dr. Winston. “By gradually introducing driving privileges over the first year of driving, we give novice drivers time to gain experience under safer conditions.”

National Teen Driver Safety Week was established by Congress in 2007 in response to the more than 5,000 teens that died in teen-driver related crashes on U.S. roads in 2006. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Companies® played a key role in the designation and continue to support ongoing organizational efforts. Outreach efforts, such as National Teen Driver Safety Week campaigns, are needed so that families going through the learning-to-drive process are supported by their communities. It will take the will and initiative of teens, families, schools, law enforcement officers, and policymakers to successfully address the leading cause of death and acquired disability for US teens.

More information for parents is available at www.raisingsafedrivers.com. Teens will find tips on how to “Ride Like a Friend” at www.ridelikeafriend.com.

To view previous editions of "Teen Voice", please click here.

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