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CHP: Fatalities, Injuries Among Teen Drivers Too High

Reckless and distracted driving is the top killer of teens in the U.S., with car crashes resulting in about 3,500 teen deaths in 2009

Teens are more likely to die behind the wheel than anywhere else in the state, according to information out this month from the non-profit Impact Teen Drivers and the California Highway Patrol.

And distracted driving is a primary cause.

During 2009 (the most current year available), the CHP reports that in Lake Elsinore and Wildomar, there were 12 collisions involving distracted teen drivers, ages 15-19. Of those collisions, five of the drivers were injured.

Countywide, there were 186 collisions involving distracted teen drivers -- 77 of those drivers were injured.

Statewide, the 2009 numbers are more dire: Of the reported 3,858 collisions involving distracted teen drivers, 10 teens were killed and another 1,583 injured.

But even when they are paying attention, as a whole teens aren't great drivers. From 2006 through 2008, “statewide statistics show that 88,270 fatal and injury collisions occurred involving at least one teen driver, resulting in 1,488 people killed and 137,307 victims injured,” the CHP reported on March 8.

Still, inattention among teen drivers is a factor.

According to a separate March 3 CHP report, during a four-year period (2005–2008) California drivers between the ages of 15 to 19 were involved in more than 20,000 collisions where inattention was a factor.

“Among those crashes, 41 percent resulted in injury or death,” the March 3 report stated.

Impact Teen Drivers, which works to educate about the dangers of distracted driving, reported March 7 that, “Reckless and distracted driving is the number one killer of teens in the U.S., with car crashes resulting in about 3,500 teen deaths in 2009. More than two-thirds of fatal teen crashes have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol, but are a result of distractions, speed, and other poor driving decisions. The crash risk per mile driven by 16-year-olds is twice that of 18- to 19-year-olds and about four times the risk for drivers ages 30-59, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.”

Texting behind the wheel is often reported as a distraction for teen drivers, despite California law outlawing the activity. Impact Teen Drivers cites a study published by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which found that texting while driving increases the risk of a crash 23-fold.

“The study further indicated that the average text message takes 5 seconds, which means that a driver who texts at 55 mph would travel the length of a football field without ever looking at the road. A 2009 self-report survey found that 51.4 percent of drivers age 16–19 admit to texting while driving, despite laws in many states prohibiting it. This is despite 95 percent of drivers who admitted to texting while driving recognizing that doing so makes them more likely to be involved in a collision, and 55 percent said that it made them much more likely to be involved in a crash,” Impact Teen Drivers reported in its March 7 news statement.

The numbers are alarming, and several campaigns are underway to help save lives.

The CHP announced March 3 that it has acquired a grant to fund an educational campaign throughout the state.

“Efforts to reduce distracted driving through Impact Teen Drivers – Connecting Key Players continue through September 30, 2011, and are a part of California’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, a statewide roadmap to reduce traffic-related fatalities,” the CHP said in a news release.

The announcement coincided with California Teen Safe Driving Week, March 6-12.

Additionally, April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and all CHP division offices will take part in local events throughout the state, according to CHP spokeswoman Jaime Coffee.

The focus on distracted driving is warranted. Although the number of collisions and fatalities have dropped due to bans on texting and use of non-hands-free cell phones while driving, the numbers are still too high, according to the CHP and Impact Teen Drivers.

"Slowly but surely the numbers are coming down," Coffee said, "but the problem hasn't gone away."

Kelly Browning, executive director of Impact Teen Drivers, wants to change the statistics so she and Impact Teen Drivers’ volunteers are putting this question out there: “What do you consider lethal?”

According to Browning, the aim of Impact Teen Drivers is to change the culture of driving, so that it’s just as socially unacceptable to drive distracted as it is to drive drunk.

“It is crucial that we educate teens and empower them to promote the safe driving message in order to have a fundamental and sustained behavior shift,” Browning said in a recent news release.

“Too many teenagers continue to drive distracted even though they’re aware that their actions put them and others at risk of being involved in a crash; this dangerous and potentially deadly behavior needs to stop,” said California Highway Patrol (CHP) Commissioner Joe Farrow. “Bottom line, distractions behind the wheel can destroy lives.”

For parents interested in getting more information, Impact Teen Drivers recommends visiting its website -- www.impactteendrivers.org. The organization also recommends this site for teen drivers: www.whatdoyouconsiderlethal.com

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