By Anthony B. Spada
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer … and the start of the deadliest season for teen drivers. Although we’d prefer to think about lazy, hazy days filled with backyard barbecues and swimming pools, we really can’t ignore the facts.
Every summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, nearly 800 teenagers lose their lives in traffic crashes. That makes the 100 days between these two holidays the deadliest for teen drivers. An average of 261 teens die in traffic crashes during each of the summer months, representing a 26 percent increase compared to the rest of the year.
While there are several reasons behind these startling statistics, recent AAA research showed that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all teen crashes studied.
The most common forms of distraction leading up to a crash involving a teen driver included interacting with one or more passengers, cellphone use, looking at something in the vehicle, looking at something outside the vehicle, singing/moving to the music, grooming and reaching for an object.
The seriousness of distracted driving cannot be overstated. Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for about five seconds. At 55 miles an hour, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field.
So, while our teens are eager to begin their summer holiday – with more freedom and time for friends and joyriding – what can we do to ensure they are making the best decisions possible when behind the wheel?
AAA research reinforces the importance of parents setting and enforcing family rules. Complete a parent-teen driving agreement that outlines these rules and consequences if they are violated. Address electronic devices and other passengers in the car. Set limits on the time of day and type of weather your teen can drive in. Restrict or eliminate trips without a purpose.
I also encourage you to lead by example: Put your cellphone away and fully focus on driving. Don’t let anything like eating, drinking, chatting with a passenger or reaching for things in the car divert your attention from the road. Do everything possible to pass on good driving habits.
As we embark upon these 100 days and the school year winds down, remember there are still important lessons to be learned. Go to AAA.com/Teens or TeenDriving.AAA.com to download your parent-teen driving agreement today.
Anthony B. Spada is president and CEO of AAA Western and Central New York.