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When Teens Are Behind The Wheel…

Teens are heeding reports and warnings about drinking and driving but they are oftentimes faced with behind-the-wheel distractions like mobile phones. And if their inexperience is to be added with these distractions the result could be tragic.

According to previously conducted studies, teens are more at risk for motor vehicle crashes because of their inexperience, misdemeanor as well as the influence of alcohol. Compared to older drivers, teens are more likely to underestimate the dangers in hazardous situations while on the road. They also have lesser driving experience to cope with such situations.

There are also teens who deliberately disregard the importance of using seat belts. A recent survey conducted said that only 33 percent of high school students report that they always wear seat belts when riding with someone else. In addition, the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for teens than for older drivers.

Teens distracted by mobile phones contribute to the thousands of fatal crashes each year. According to Dr. Flaura Winston, chief investigator of the study entitled “Friends, phones fuel teen-driver crashes”, “Teens often take the wheel amid commotion, angst or fatigue that would be challenging even for older drivers.”

“We need to go beyond the message of drinking and driving and also talk about the message of distractions,” added Winston, a pediatrician with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and founder of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention.

The study, which had over 5,600 students as respondents to serve as adequate sample of the 10.6 million students in public high schools across America, asked high school students what happens when their peers drive that makes them unsafe. According to the study, 90 percent of teens said they rarely or never drive after drinking or using drugs. This query is in connection with the alarming teen traffic deaths due to alcohol. The figure though dropped by about 35 percent from 1990 to 2005. This information was divulged by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, teens reported a host of other in-car distractions that researchers say help make traffic accidents the number one killer of U.S. teens, with a fatality rate 4 times higher than drivers aged 25-69, based on miles driven. About 5,600 teens died in traffic accidents in 2005, and about 7,500 were driving cars when they got involved in fatal accidents.

The researchers also discovered that a teen passenger with a teen driver doubles the risk of fatal crashes. The risk increases as the number of teen car occupants also increases. Most states have laws prohibiting passengers when teens drive. However, 15 states do not impose such restrictions.

About 90 percent of teens reported seeing peers drive while talking on their mobile phones. Further, more than half of the spotted drivers are using hand-held games, listening devices or sending text messages. About 75 of the respondents said that they see teens driving while tired or struggling with powerful emotions, such as worries about grades or relationships. In addition, more than 9 of 10 teens also reported seeing teen drivers speeding and half said they sometimes drive at least 10 mph over posted speed limits themselves.

“The environment for a teen driver is much more challenging and demanding than most of us adults thought. They’re trying to manage all of that while trying to navigate the vehicle at the same time and they’re pretty inexperienced at that,” said Laurette Stiles, vice president of strategic resources at Bloomington-based State Farm.

According to the researchers, the study will be used to push legislation regarding more stringent requirements for graduated drivers’ licenses. Aimed legislations may include mandated supervised driving with parents, night driving curfews and passenger restrictions. Aside from the purpose of stricter legislation, the study will also be shared with schools and parents for them to warn teens about the hazards of driving.

The study also suggest that automakers, especially now that they are aimed at the generation Y, to consider the needs of young drivers. The car should be equipped with quality brakes, EBC pads, rotors, seatbelts, suspension and more to reduce collision figures and to lower the results of impact.

About the Author: Anthony Fontanelle is a 35-year-old automotive buff who grew up in the Windy City. He does freelance work for an automotive magazine when he is not busy customizing cars in his shop.

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