This week I read that the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are the deadliest for teen drivers.
Oh dear. It's going to be a long summer for my two boys and my anxiety.
The reasons for this statistic were not what I expected. It didn't have anything to do with texting or drinking and driving, although those are well known accident triggers.
First, teens are behind the wheel more during the summer. They aren't just heading to school or work. Rather, they are on their way to the beach or the amusement park, often on roads that are unfamiliar to them.
But the most surprising reason was this: having other people in the car with them. According to the National Safety Council, the risk of a fatal car crash by a teen driver went up 44% when they had passengers in their vehicle.
Makes sense. Having friends in the car talking loudly or messing around can be especially troublesome for a new driver. Studies have shown that this can be even more dangerous than texting, since the distraction goes on for the entire length of the drive.
Here in Washington State, new drivers aren't allowed to have any passengers except immediate family in the car for the first 6 months they have their license. After that, they can drive up to three people age 20 and younger until they turn 18.
Personally, I think three is too many.
At our house, there is the "law" law, and then there is "mom and dad's" law. Until our teens have more driving experience, one extra passenger is the limit. We make an occasional exception, but one is the general rule. We've explained to our kids that when they are driving, they are in charge of the lives of everyone in their car - that's a lot of responsibility for a 16 year old.
I'm sure both of them have "forgotten" this rule a few times. I hope they remember I have eyes everywhere - I know a lot of people in this town :).
In this case, my anxiety comes from actual experience. In 2011, my older son's best friend was involved in a terrible car accident. He survived with numerous injuries, but the young man who was driving was killed. Speed was definitely a factor, but he also had two other boys in the car with him. I have often wondered what was happening in the moments before the crash - were they fiddling with the radio, punching back and forth, joking and talking? Innocent enough, and we've all done it. The young man killed was a great student and athlete, and it hit our community very hard.
We all need to be reminded sometimes to pay more attention when we're on the road. Michelle at A Dish Of Daily Life wrote a great post about distracted driving and the Decide To Drive campaign. It's definitely worth a read.
So to teens and their parents alike - drive safely this summer. We still want you here when Labor Day rolls around.
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