Did you know that “teenage vehicle fatalities” is considered a disease in the United States?  Well it is and this is why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) track these fatalities. It is an epidemic that is associated with driving an automobile and it is “the number one cause of death for teenagers in America.  In no other country is this considered a disease and in no other country is it more prevalent than the United States.

In the last 30 years, nearly 250,000 teenagers have been killed in vehicle crashes.  That is not only a staggering number, it is almost incomprehensible.  Each year our country spends about $40 billion dollars covering the associated medical and damage costs that result from these crashes and that is on top of untold millions we spend trying to prevent them.

How many more teenagers must die in vehicle crashes before we, as a nation, get serious about this disease?  How many additional lives will be lost while we foolishly throw money at the symptoms while ignoring the real cause?  How many of you are willing to continue putting your life or the life of your teenage driver at risk before you stand up and say, enough is enough?

In Part I of this series of Blogs, I hope to enlighten many of you with facts and statistics so you can grasp the full scope and magnitude of this disease.  I hope to dispel the myths about various factors that are often considered the cause, expose the flaws in our current driver education requirements and use the CDC statistics to build a case around improving the education and training that can actually cure this disease.

The first set of statistics I want to begin with is the data from 2007 published by the Centers for Disease Control.  They have broken down the ages in groups and listed the number of deaths based on each age group.

         Age                  Number Killed             Average by Year of Age

                       16-17                       1860                                 930                

                       18-19                       2609                                 1304

                       20-24                       5901                                 1475

                       25-29                       3878                                 970

In the above chart, it is important to note that we’re dealing with the number killed and not percentages which factor in the driving population of these (or other) age groups.

What is interesting here is the fact that the highest number of fatalities per age group listed is for those between 20-24 years of age.  It is more than double the 18-19 year olds and more than triple the 16-17 year olds. Even when you break these numbers down to an average per year of age, the death toll of the oldest group (25-29 years old) is still higher than highest risk teen group (16-17 year olds).

Another interesting chart in the report was the percentage of drivers and passengers who were killed in crashes (2007) while not wearing a seat belt. Those statistics are reported as follows;

                                    Age      Unbelted Drivers         Unbelted Passengers

                                     16                   48%                             55%

                                     17                   49%                             61%

                                     18                   51%                             60%

                                     19                   65%                             59%

                                  20-24                 58%                             61%

                                  25-29                 57%                             65%

 Additionally, of the deadly teen crashes, 24% were alcohol related, 38% involved speeding and 48% were single vehicle incidences.  While the CDC didn’t single out speed or alcohol related crash data for 20-29 year olds, it did state that single vehicle crashes accounted for 47% of the deaths for the 20-24 year old group and 43% of the deaths for the 25-29 year old group.

Lastly, and perhaps the most telling statistic in all of this data is the fact that nearly 80% of ALL teenage vehicle fatalities are a result of “Driver Error”.  Based on that fact alone, it means nearly 80% of these tragedies are preventable!   But the question remains whether we know enough about their causes to figure out how to prevent these crashes.

So let’s consider what we do know just from these statistics.   We could certainly conclude that alcohol and the lack of seat belt use are partially to blame and could be considered “causes”.  However, the same is not true in the case of speed or the fact that nearly half of these crashes were single vehicle incidences.

Yet, there is some common ground connecting all of these statistics.  First there is significant evidence that none of these drivers/passengers viewed their risk for crashing seriously enough.  Whether it was getting into the vehicle after consuming alcohol, failing to fasten a seat belt or choosing to exceed the speed limit, these victims demonstrated irresponsible behaviors behind the wheel of their vehicles.

Secondly, the fact that nearly half of these crashes were single vehicle incidences illustrates that nearly half of these teen drivers failed to recognize their own limitations or the limitations of the vehicles they were driving.  Whether these crashes resulted from distractions, excessive speed for conditions, panic situations or just a failure to recognize a hazard in advance, they clearly didn’t understand the technical skills required to safety control a vehicle.

At this point, there is certainly some evidence to suggest that improved education and training would prove beneficial in preventing teenage vehicle fatalities.  Poorly trained drivers who don’t take their risk or responsibility serious are basically predisposed to using poor judgment which in turn yields bad decisions and these decisions often result in deadly mistakes. 

However, before we pin all the blame on insufficient education and training, let’s consider how inexperience, invincibility and brain development play into these statistics.  We’ll review those aspects in Part II of this series.