Report: ‘Apply the Gas’ on Safety Programs as Dangers Lessen for Teen Passengers

Teens in a carIt’s nearly prom season, so the thought of one teen (or maybe more) in a car driven by another teen creates undeniable worries for any parent.

But a report released this month on teen driver safety shows that teen passengers are being less risky on the road. They usually buckle up, say no to drunk drivers, and are in fewer fatal crashes.

So that mean parent might have reason to relax — but just a bit.

For Parents, Reasons to Relax

The study comes from State Farm and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), a partnership that has produced a number of studies in recent years under the “Miles to Go” series. The studies have focused on teen drivers, touching on topics from their head injuries to how they use seat belts to certain methods that could be used to keep them safer.

And while teen driver safety is highlighted during April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month, CHOP’s report on teen passengers delves into a topic that is usually ignored but just as important.

“When most people think about those affected by teen driver crashes, they think of teens behind the wheel,” Dennis Durbin, the report’s lead author, said in a statement. “This report includes encouraging news about teen passengers, who are often left out of the teen driver safety picture.”

Much research has shown a heightened danger for a car carrying a teen passenger.

A study released last October from the AAA showed that teen drivers engaged in risky habits, including speeding and drunk driving, more often when ferrying a teen passenger along for the ride. That study even found the same occurred for drivers when carrying passengers in their 20s.

In the CHOP study, the best news is that the number of teen passengers killed in crashes involving a teen driver fell 30 percent between 2008 and 2011 while the number of teen driver-related crash deaths fell 47 percent over the last six years.

Between 2008 and 2011, the rate of certain risky habits also took a tumble: the number of teen passengers between 15 years old and 19 years old reported killed in crashes without seat belts fell 23 percent while those teen passengers killed in crashes where the teen driver was drunk fell 14 percent.

And with more than 1 out of every 2 teen passenger reporting that they “always” buckled up, parents can breathe easier and maybe let those prom-ettes drive to that posh eatery without being their wet-blanket chauffeur.

‘Time to Apply the Gas’

But it’s not all good news.

Teens are still texting a lot (1 out of every 3 admitted to recently texting or emailing while driving) and speeding a lot (fatal teen-driver crashes involved speeding at nearly the same rate as in 2008), according to CHOP.

And the highlighted improvements for teen passengers don’t mean they aren’t still a problem. The report offered a few gender breakdowns:
–1 out of every 5 female teen drivers with a teen passenger reported being “distracted by something inside the vehicle” before a crash, representing a crash risk that is four times more likely than a lone female driver.
–A male teen driver with passengers was six times more likely to engage in an illegal driving act than a teen male driving alone.

Durbin said that the good news mixed with the bad is reason to put more power behind safety programs.

He listed areas for improvement:
–Reduce distraction from passengers and technology
–Increase skills in scanning, hazard detection, and speed management
–Increase seat belt use to improve a teen’s chance of survival

“When you see the needle move, as we have in this report, it’s time to apply the gas on programs that encourage safe teen passenger behaviors, as well as those that address what causes teens to crash,” he said.

Distracted Driving Campaign Grows Across Los Angeles-Area Schools

When it comes to stopping teen texters, Durbin warned against “scare tactics” that underlie many awareness programs.

“To reach the teens that still do text or email while driving, messages should focus on teens’ positive safety beliefs about refraining from cell phone use while driving, rather than turning to scare tactics that always emphasize the negative consequences.”

Distracted Driving Awareness Month has brought on a number of programs hitting high schools across the U.S.

The “In One Instant” program began at Palisades Charter and Santa Monica High Schools in Los Angeles.

As part of the program coming to University High School on Thursday, about 1,000 students saw testimonials from parents and victims and lectures from authorities, according to a release.

Gail Schenbaum Lawton, the program’s co-founder, said that “In One Instant” is a “game-changing solution” with an award-winning short film and dramatizations of funerals and crash scenes.

Lawton said that the comprehensive approach is meant to cut into the number of car crashes involving teens, which has been the leading killer of the age group in the U.S.

The program will visit 10 more schools in the L.A. area this year.

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