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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Teens Are Highest Passenger Risk Group

Study Outlines Risks for Unbuckled Teens

A new study says that car crashes are the number-one cause of death for tweens and teens, and it highlights a terribly dangerous circumstance: new teen drivers riding unbuckled on high-speed roads. The study found these were the three biggest risk factors that contribute to car crash deaths for passengers aged 8 to 17.

Statistics prove that young drivers have higher chances of dying. However, the six-year study focused on nearly 10,000 children passengers who died in car crashes. Shockingly, 54 percent — more than half — were passengers in a vehicle operated by a teen driver.

The researchers discovered that over three-quarters of the fatal crashes happened on roads with speed limits higher than 45 mph, and almost two-thirds of the young passengers were not wearing seat belts.

Further dangerous situations for young passengers included drunk drivers, male teen drivers, and driving on weekends.

For parents, the message is simple and sobering: Your teen ride must not ride with a teen driver who has less than a year's experience driving. Demand they wear their seat belts. And, the study's lead author added, practice ways teens could resist peer pressure to ride with other teens.

"Knowing the risks can help parents and teens make smart decisions about which rides are safe, and which ones are off limits," said Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston, founder of the hospital's Center for Injury Research and Prevention.

The study examines national data on serious car crashes, including those resulting in death between 2000 and 2005. During that time, 2.5 million children aged 8 to 17 were involved in crashes; 9,807 died.

For kids riding with drivers aged 16 to 19, the risk of death was at least double that of those riding with drivers aged 25 and older. For young passengers with 25-plus drivers, there were about two deaths per 1,000 crashes, compared with more than four deaths in the younger group.

The study, funded by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., was released in the March edition of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

According to recent federal data, the percentage of 16-year-olds with driver's licenses has fallen since 1998 (from 44 to 30 percent, generally speaking), while restrictions on teen driving have generally increased.

Yet not one state has all the restrictions recommended by State Farm, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Philadelphia hospital.

For example, the recommendations call for a minimum age of 16 for a learner's permit. Yet nine states issue them to 14-year-olds, and at least 30 others give them to 15-year-olds. In another example, the study recommends that without adult supervision, drivers younger than 18 not be allowed to have more than one teen passenger. But only 34 states have that restriction, data provided by the hospital and State Farm reveal.

Rosie Jermakian, a 16-year-old from Bethesda, Md., said the study results hit home: a recent spate of teen car crashes in the Washington, D.C. area included one that involved Rosie’s friend.

Rosie, who has a learner's permit and hopes to get her license soon, said, "Teen drivers don't always think. Sometimes they think they're just in this little bubble where they can't get hurt, and they don't really think of the consequences."

Winston, who authored the study, said that means teen passengers and their parents have to take precautions. The Jermakian family is following suit.

"I've told her flat out,” said Joel Jermakian, Rosie's father. “In regard to some of her friends who I don't believe have been well taught in these areas, that she is not to get in a car with them driving."

Her parents have instructed her to call them for a ride if she ever faces a potentially dangerous driving situation.

The study "reminds us that in raising teens, constant dialogue about all these kinds of things is important," said Jermakian.

Schools, parents and communities can learn more about driver education and safety at America's Driver License Headquarters Try a Free DMV Practice Test online!

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