With school out of session for the summer, many Bellingham teens are enjoying long days without homework and classes to interrupt the fun. But unfortunately, this is the deadliest time for them to be out on the roads. Dubbed the "100 deadliest days" beginning Memorial Day, it is 16% more dangerous for drivers between ages 16 and 19 than any other time of the year.
It makes sense that if teens aren't spending their time in school or studying, they might be driving. The teenaged years have always been difficult, bringing on hormonal changes, puberty, bullying, and trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. No small task, but it's all added to the mix a still-developing cognitive awareness and functionality that actually helps a person make decisions and weigh consequences. But, just as every generation seems to find new challenges, this one has a whole lot of technology to further complicate matters. We all know this technology has made its way into our cars. From an article titled, "Distraction and Teen Crashes: Even Worse Than We Thought" by AAA, a recent NHTSA study showed how serious distracted driving is for teens:
Researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders. The results showed that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes studied, including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. NHTSA previously has estimated that distraction is a factor in only 14 percent of all teen driver crashes.
It's not just cell phones that are distracting, but actually passengers who make driving the most dangerous for teenagers. In fact, teens who have a passenger in the car while they drive face 44 percent more danger of being in a deadly car crash than a teen driver without a passenger. With a friend in the car, a teen driver can be distracted for the duration of a trip, rather than just a few seconds a text message can pose.
From that same NHTSA study, the most common forms of distraction leading up to a crash by a teen driver included:
Interacting with one or more passengers: 15 percent of crashes
Cell phone use: 12 percent of crashes
Looking at something in the vehicle: 10 percent of crashes
Looking at something outside the vehicle: 9 percent of crashes
Singing/moving to music: 8 percent of crashes
Grooming: 6 percent of crashes
Reaching for an object: 6 percent of crashes
Washington State included, many US states are scrambling to think of new ways to help protect drivers from the dangers of distractions. Just this year, Washington State legislators updated an old law that basically became obsolete the moment it went on the books in 2007, right before the release of Apple's iPhone. While there are laws in many states against both passengers and phone use for new drivers, the amount young drivers focus on their phones while behind the wheel has only increased. Between 2007 to 2014, the use of phones by 16-24 year-olds while driving has gone from 1 percent to 4.8 percent, and when a text is involved, many do not even see the accident coming.
It's simple in theory to prevent distracted driving, but in practice, it takes committment to do things differently. A couple years back, we held an essay contest for high school students to write about ways to reduce distracted driving. The winning essay, by Suzi Baydek, clearly shows how easy it is to avoid cell phone distractions. Please take a look and share with your friends and family so we can all make the roads safer.