Every spring, it seems as if there is a sharp increase in teen traffic fatalities. Prom and graduation parties are rites of passage for many teens, and these are often associated with underage drinking. While DUI clearly has an impact on driver and passenger safety, teen drivers are also at risk of being in a serious car accident due to inexperience, distraction, and speed. Who doesn't remember that invincible feeling of being in a car packed with your friends, the windows down, the wind in your hair, and the music blaring? Unfortunately, hundreds of Oklahoma teens find out the hard way that being young does not make one invincible. In fact, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and more people in that age group are killed in auto accidents than in any other age group. The CDC offers the following eye-opening statistics: Every day in 2010, seven teens died from motor vehicle accident injuries. Per mile, drivers aged 16-19 are three times more likely to die in an automobile accident than drivers aged 20 and older. The most recent statistics released by the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office show that there were more than 68,000 crashes in 2011, resulting in 36,294 injuries and 696 deaths. That same year, 11,177 drivers aged 16-19 were involved in crashes; 2,430 of those were in Oklahoma City alone, not counting the metro area cities of Edmond (536), Norman (580), Midwest City (279), or Moore (348). These figures represent the number of teen drivers in auto accidents; another 2,276 teen passengers were involved in motor vehicle crashes. Nationally, teen car accidents have decreased dramatically over the last decade or more. In 2000, there were 999 drivers aged 16-17 killed in car crashes. By 2011, that number had dropped to 423. Safety experts attributed the drop to greater awareness, graduated licensing, and other restrictions on teen drivers. Unfortunately, in Oklahoma and across the nation, the first six months of 2012 saw an increase in teen driving deaths over the previous year. In 2011, 202 teen drivers aged 16-17 died between January and June. In 2012, that number rose to 240--an increase of 19 percent. Though teenagers make up 5.7 percent of Oklahoma's licensed drivers, they account for 11.1 percent of the state's motor vehicle accidents, and they are responsible for 7 percent of alcohol-related crashes. According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office's latest statistics, 17 people were killed in auto accidents in which a teen driver was impaired by alcohol. Only 6 of the 17 were teens themselves, meaning that teen DUI is not just a hazard to young people, but to anyone in the drunk driver's path. Nationally, the CDC gives some sobering statistics about teen drivers and alcohol use. Alcohol was a factor in 25 percent of auto accidents involving male teen drivers in 2011. That same year, 24 percent of teens surveyed responded that, in the prior month, they had ridden as a passenger with a driver who had been drinking, and 8 percent admitted to driving after drinking in that one month span. The previous year, 22 percent of drivers aged 15-20 who were involved in a fatal crash had been drinking. In addition to alcohol, the CDC lists the following risk factors for teen drivers:
- The fatality rate for male teen drivers is nearly twice that of female teen drivers.
- The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of teen drivers, and the risk increases with the number of teen passengers in the vehicle.
- Teens are more likely to underestimate risk than older drivers.
- Teens are less likely to recognize hazards than older drivers.
- Teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use when compared to other age groups. In 2010, more than half (56 percent) of teen drivers killed in alcohol-related crashes were not wearing seat belts.
- Speed was a factor in 39 percent of auto accidents involving male teen drivers in 2011.