For decades, Ridgefielders have lost at least one teenager every year in a motor vehicle accident. This unfathomable horror is still experienced by far too many parents here. So under what circumstances do these problems arise and what can we as parents do to reduce these risks?
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group. In 2008, it was reported that nine teen drivers died every day from motor vehicle injuries. It is estimated that teen drivers are four times more likely than adults to get into an accident.
Those who are at an especially high risk for a motor vehicle accident among adolescent drivers include:
- Males: In 2006, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers was almost twice as high as those of female drivers.
- Teen Passengers: Teen drivers are more likely to get into an accident if they have teen passengers. Additionally, this risk increases with the number of additional teenage passengers present.
- Teenagers Who Are Newly Licensed Drivers: Teenage drivers have an increased risk of being in a motor vehicle accident within the first year of becoming licensed.
Factors that contribute to these higher-risk statistics include:
- A teen's inability to recognize a hazardous situation resulting from a lack of driving experience.
- Speeding—in 2005, among teenage male drivers who were involved in fatal accidents, 37 percent of those were speeding and 26 percent had been drinking;
- Not allowing enough room between vehicles;
- The presence of a male teenage passenger, which increases the likelihood of risky or reckless behavior.
- Driver distractions such as talking on a cell phone or texting while driving—in 2007, this contributed to nearly 1,000 accidents involving 16 and 17 year olds. Further, each year 21 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents among teenagers involved cell phone usage.
- Teenage drivers have the lowest rate of seatbelt use. In one report it was determined that 10 percent of high school students surveyed in 2005 reported rarely or never wear a seatbelt while riding as a passenger.
As parents, what can we do to greatly reduce the chance that our children are involved in a motor vehicle accident?
Perhaps the greatest risk factor is a parent's unrealistic expectation of their child's level of understanding of the dangers posed in the operation of a motor vehicle. Emphasizing what is not acceptable behavior with your teenage child, agreeing upon serious consequences for violations of your rules and carefully monitoring their actions and whereabouts will, in all likelihood, result in less reckless and negligent behavior on their part.
Richard P. Hastings is a Ridgefield personal injury lawyer with Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP. He is the author of the books "The Crash Course on Child Injury Claims" and "The Crash Course of Personal Injury Claims in Connecticut." He can be reached at 203-438-7450 or by visiting www.hcwlaw.com.