This week, Oct. 20 to 26, is Teen Driver Safety Week, and the Iowa Department of Public Safety is recommending parents have conversations with their teens about the importance of staying safe behind the wheel.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens ages 15 to 18 years old in the United States — ahead of all other types of injury, disease, or violence.
In 2017, there were 2,247 people killed in crashes involving teen drivers, and 755 of those deaths were the driver, a 3% increase since 2016.
Additionally, in 2018, Iowa lost 29 drivers between the ages of 14 to 20 in motor vehicle crashes. Four had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit, and nine were not wearing seat belts.
The department recommends that parents and their teens discuss basic rules that address the most common dangers for teen drivers: alcohol, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding, and number of passengers.
• Alcohol and drugs: Remind teens that driving under the influence of any impairing substance could have deadly consequences. Teens are too young to legally buy, possess or consume alcohol, however in 2017, 15 percent of teen drivers who were involved in fatal crashes in the United States had alcohol in their systems. But, alcohol isn’t the only problem. According to a 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.5 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 reported using marijuana, which also affects a driver’s ability to react to their surroundings.
• Seat belts: Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest ways for teens to stay safe in a vehicle. A total of 539 passengers died in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers and more than half those passengers who died were not buckled up at the time of the fatal crash. Additionally, in 87 percent of cases when the teen driver was unbuckled, the passengers were also unbuckled. The chances of surviving a traffic crash are 45 percent higher when properly restrained in a seat belt.
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• Distracted driving: Distractions while driving, such as adjusting the radio, applying makeup, eating or drinking, or distractions from other passengers in the vehicle, are more than just risky — they can be deadly. In 2017, among teen drivers involved in fatal crashes, 9 percent were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. The use of mobile devices while driving is a big problem, but there are other causes of teen distracted driving which pose dangers as well.
• Speeding: In 2017, more than one-quarter of all teen vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash, and males were more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than females.
• Passengers: Teen drivers transporting passengers can lead to disastrous results. Research shows the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of passengers in a car. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers.
• Drowsy driving: Teens are busier than ever. Studying, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and spending time with friends are among the long list of things they do to fill their time. However, with all of these activities, teens tend to compromise something very important — sleep. This is a dangerous habit that can lead to drowsy driving or falling asleep at the wheel.
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