If a teenager came to school with a gun and murdered 6,000 innocent classmates the whole world would stop with pain. Tragedy would ripple through every heart, people would mourn, blame would be sought, the mental health system would be questioned, and the public would scream, “gun control!” If 6,000 teens were killed like that every year, life, school, the constitution and teenagers would have to change.
Every year, though, cars kill 5,000-6,000 teens. Let me rephrase that, every year, 5,000-6,000 teens in cars accidentally kill themselves and their friends. The car is the gun and your gas pedal is the trigger. Cars are teenagers’ number one killer. Teens don’t have easy access to guns however it’s during these years that we are introduced to our most deadly weapon.
The crash rate amongst teens aged 16-19 is 4x higher than that of the rest of society. Yet out of all age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seatbelt use. That’s like not using the safety on a gun.
Our ignorance towards our number one killer is perhaps the most appalling of all statistics. Even though we are warned again and again, teens seem to ignore the little skull and crossbones sign that dances in their heads when they press the gas pedal through the floor.
In fact, 17% of teens say speeding is fun. More than 2/3rds of those speeders are male and having just one male in the car (passenger or driver) will double your odds of crashing.
Is speeding a macho thing? Little boys are taught to make model cars. They learn to drive remote controlled cars as fast as possible. All the NASCAR drivers happen to be male. Are society’s stereotypes creating little speed demons as we speak?
Speeding is to blame for more than half of all fatal car accidents involving teens. Speeding kills because the driver has less reaction time, increases the crash energy therefore increases the chances of a destructive crash and increases the time it will take to stop. Government tests show that when you run a car into a wall at 70 miles per hour you have four times as much crash energy as you would have at 35 miles per hour.
It also has to do with our inability to turn of phones! 56% of teens admit to making and answering phone calls while driving. If that’s not bad enough, 13% admit to sending and responding to text messages! As if it’s impossible to wait 5 more minutes before answering your text messages.
A report on teen driving, by Allstate, found that social pressures have a huge effect on teens that drive. There is an “everybody speeds” attitude that tells teens it’s okay to be reckless and hit the gas pedal harder. Peer pressure also stops passengers from making life saving decisions, such as getting out of the car when they are with an unsafe driver. 21% of teens say that they have knowingly gotten into a car with a drunk driver. Only 39% of boys and 52% of girls say that they would speak up if in a car where they felt uncomfortable.
Nearly half of all teens admitted that passengers distract them but at the same time 53% of teens said that friends would have the most influence on their driving habits. Thus friends who insist on safe driving have a better standing than do parents and teachers.
Many scientists believe this issue has a lot to do with the teen brain and sex hormones. Teens are as intelligent as adults yet more susceptible to social and emotional pressures when making decisions. Peter Zollo, president of Teenage Research Unlimited described a study in which both adults and teens were asked what it means to be a good driver. Adults said a good driver meant a “safe” driver whereas teens described one as “a skilled driver”.
Most teenage driver-related fatal accidents have one or more of these five factors: driving too fast, running off the road, driving in the wrong lane, driving under the influence of medications, drugs or alcohol and erratic or reckless driving.
5,000-6,000 teens die in car crashes every year, that’s the equivalent of two 9/11s. About 300,000 teens are injured in car crashes. Many states have designed special laws for teen drivers to address these alarming rates. New York, for example, has a minimum driving age of 16. New York also has a 9:00 curfew for all teen drivers and requires a parent’s signature before awarding a learners permit. However state laws are only one way to reduce deaths and is very limited.
So every teen needs to take a step forward and become a safer driver. Not only should teen drivers improve their driving but they should also encourage other teens to do the same. If we all work together to make smarter decisions lives will be saved.