Sadly, every parent’s worst nightmare becomes a reality in far too many instances involving teen vehicle crashes. In addition to the fatalities that claim so many young lives, countless numbers of teens and their parents face life-changing circumstances in the aftermath.
A new report on teen driver safety just released by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm shows that head injuries are the most common serious injury suffered by teens in vehicle crashes each year.
While the annual report, Miles to go: Monitoring Progress in Teen Driver Safety, highlights that there’s been an impressive decline in teen driver-related fatalities over the past six years (2005-2010), the fact is that crashes remain the leading cause of death for teens and kill nearly five times more 15- to 19-year-olds as cancer or poisoning.
Dr. Dennis Durbin, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention and emergency medicine physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, puts this in perspective. “Since full recovery from serious head injuries is often not achievable, there can be significant life-long impact from these injuries on teens and their families.
“The brain is the organ that is the least able to heal,” warns Dr. Durbin, “so prevention is the best medicine.”
Teen Driver - photo courtesy of The Children's Hospital of PhiladelphiaEnlarge Photo
Fewer teen deaths but continued challenges
This year’s report points to significant progress between 2005 and 2010 in efforts to reduce both the number and impact of teen driver crashes and related fatalities. Teen deaths in crashes declined 46 percent, from 2,388 to 2,305, during the period. Deaths of the teen drivers’ passengers also declined 41 percent, from 1,777 to 1,022.
In 2010, there were 1,849 fewer teen drivers and their passengers that died in vehicle crashes compared to the number of fatalities in 2005. For those in traffic safety, researchers say that this marks a substantial public health achievement.
But there are also significant variations in fatality rates among the states. Massachusetts is the lowest with 3.9 deaths per 100,000 teens, while Montana is the highest with a rate of 29.1 per 100,000 teen deaths in 2009-2010.
Why such a dramatic variation? Researchers say it’s due, in part, to how strong the state’s Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) law is. Importantly, twelve states implemented comprehensive GDL policy and other programs to reduce their teen fatality rate by more than 50 percent in the past six years.
Meanwhile, five states – Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island – each with comprehensive GDL laws, have been able to maintain rates of less than 10 crash-related teen deaths per 100,000 since 2005-2006.
Comprehensive GDL laws include at least 50 hours of adult-supervised practice under a number of different driving conditions, limits on the number of teen passengers permitted during the first year of driving, restrictions on nighttime driving, mandating seat belt use for the driver and all passengers, and prohibiting driver cell phone use.
To learn more about the CHOP’s recommended minimum GDL provisions, click here.