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Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for teens. Why?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of death among American teens. They account for more than one-third of all deaths among those aged 12 to 19 years in the U.S. What are the factors that cause these accidents?

Researchers from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) Teen Risk and Injury Prevention Group recently completed a first-of-its-kind naturalistic driving study among teenagers. They identified four key risks for young drivers:

  • Distracted driving
  • Hard braking and cornering
  • Speeding
  • Driving at night

The team also found that novice teen drivers -- those in their first 18 months of licensure -- were involved in four times as many wrecks and near-wreck events as other teens. Moreover, studies have already shown that teens in general are four times as likely to be involved in fatal crashes as adult drivers.

"One out of every five young drivers in the United States is involved in a collision within the first six months of driving, often because they are distracted," says the lead research scientist at VTTI's Teen Risk and Injury Prevention Group.

It's not just about texting while driving

According to the researchers, distracting activities often include things that most people overlook. It's true that teens are prone to using their smartphones or texting while driving, but that is not the only source of potential distraction. Parents do need to remain vigilant about smartphones in light of the ever-increasing spectrum of activities on mobile devices. However, one of the most distracting things in the car has nothing to do with technology.

Studies have shown that having other teens in the vehicle is one of the most significant distractions for teen drivers. One 2012 study found that the teenagers most likely to drive with multiple peers in the car were also "thrill seekers." Often enough, they didn't have an accurate idea of inherent driving risks -- and they were also likely to believe their parents weren't monitoring their behavior. These thrill seekers, however, did not represent the majority of teenagers.

In another study from that year, researchers analyzed a nationally representative group of teens who had been involved in serious traffic accidents. They found that the drivers with other teens in the car were more likely to have been distracted just before the crash.

Of those who reported that a distraction had occurred just before the crash, 71 percent of boys and 47 percent of girls identified that distraction as their passengers.

Boys were also much more likely to drive aggressively and perform illegal maneuvers when they were with other teens. (Girls were unlikely to drive aggressively at all.) In fact, boys were nearly six times more likely to take such risks when they had teen passengers.

In fact, having teen peers as passengers is so distracting that many states have graduated licensing laws that restrict the number and type of passengers teens may have in the car. Here in Georgia, for example, drivers between 16 and 18 are granted intermediate licenses that restrict the number of passengers:

  • During the first six months, teens may carry no passenger who is not an immediate family member
  • During the second six months, teens may carry no more than one non-family passenger under the age of 21
  • During the remainder of the intermediate license period, teen may carry no more than three non-family passengers under the age of 21

Intermediate licenses also address another risk factor for teens: they prohibit driving late at night.

We all want to do our part to prevent serious traffic crashes among teens. One of the most effective things that can be done is for parents to set firm rules and act as good examples. When teens believe their parents are monitoring their driving, they take fewer risks and follow the rules more often.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you should consider having your situation reviewed by an attorney. If the other driver was distracted or otherwise negligent, they might owe you compensation for your injuries and losses. It is important to act quickly, however, to preserve evidence and protect your rights.

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