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Traffic Safety: Keeping Teens Safe behind the Wheel

It’s not surprising that motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death among our youth. Motorists need to realize that driving is a privilege, not a right, and it brings with it a tremendous responsibility to exercise good judgment. That includes the responsibility to stay alcohol- and drug-free, each and every time you get behind the wheel. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among youth (www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars).  Per miles driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash (http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/811169.pdf) (PDF, 6 pages).

These numbers are startling and illustrate a problem of great concern, especially during the summer months, when Americans across the country are revving up for vacations by the thousands.

Statistics show that 31% of 16 to 19 year old drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes, despite the legal drinking age of 21, had been drinking some amount of alcohol; 25% were alcohol-impaired, meaning they had blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams per deciliter or higher (PDF, 10 pages).

While drinking and driving is a great concern, it should not be the only distraction on the minds of youth. Speeding, reckless driving, texting while driving, blasting music while driving and driving with multiple passengers also influence decision-making and can result in fatal outcomes.(http://www.distraction.gov/)

Fortunately, teen motor vehicle crashes are preventable, and proven strategies can improve the safety of young drivers on the road. Keeping our youth safe on the roadways every day is a collaborative effort that requires everyone working together. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a variety of resources and partners available to help you in your efforts: http://www.nhtsa.gov/Teen-Drivers; partnering with National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) www.noys.org provides real, effective methods and materials to adults and teens alike to better facilitate the conversation of making good choices each time a teen takes the wheel through www.underyourinfluence.org.

Non Profit organizations are another critical resource in helping make positive change. The Peer to Peer concept of teens helping teens make positive choices behind the wheel continues to be the focus of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions). SADD provides a host of campaigns and activities that schools and community groups can use to pass this life saving message on to teens.

Together we can make a difference. Government agencies and non-profits providing resources. Parents setting ground rules for driving with enforceable consequences. Teens speaking up when their friends make poor choices behind the wheel and being smart each time they take the wheel. Together we can make our teens smart and responsible drivers. Every Drive. Every Time.