Maryland is doing a lot of things right to limit teen crashes
After dropping to an all-time low in 2014, Maryland traffic fatalities rose in 2015 and so far the upward trend continues in 2016. Fatal accidents involving teen drivers in particular are up sharply after so much progress in recent years.
Why are more teens getting injured and killed in car accidents? Many factors contribute to the increase, including the simple math of more drivers on the road. On the bright side, Maryland is doing many of the right things to prevent a greater number of untimely teen deaths.
A Troubling Trend
Teen fatalities in Maryland had decreased every year since 2005, dipping below 40 in 2014. But last year, the number of young drivers (age 15 to 19) killed in traffic crashes spiked, matching a nationwide rise. Preliminary data for 2016 suggests teen deaths, and traffic deaths in general, are rising.
- Cheap gas is largely to blame. Since gas prices dropped in 2014 and 2015, more people have been driving more miles, increasing collisions.
- Distracted driving is a key contributor. The youngest drivers (16 and 17) are less likely to engage in texting than older teens (18 and 19). But one of the most dangerous distractions is having other teens in the car; each friend on board increases the crash risk.
- Alcohol is often involved. Statistically, 16-year-olds seldom drink and drive, but one-fourth of 19-year-olds who die in car accidents are intoxicated.
- Sleepy drivers can be just as dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control says fewer than 30 percent of teens get the recommended amount of sleep. Staying awake for 24 hours can impair judgment and reactions as much as driving drunk.
- Teens are waiting to drive. About one-third of kids do not get their driver’s license before age 18. That number is even higher for minorities and teens from low-income families. When they do start driving, those older teens are not subject to the same restrictions (night driving, passengers) as under-18 drivers.
- Seatbelt use prevents deaths and injuries. Only 81 percent of Maryland teens routinely wear seatbelts, compared to 90 percent of all drivers.
Maryland Is A Leader In Teen Driver Safety
The Governors Highway Safety Association notes several laudable efforts in Maryland that have have probably saved lives despite the recent uptick in deaths. Teen crashes declined after Maryland strengthened its Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program. Rookie drivers must log 60 hours behind the wheel and comply with restrictions on seat belts, cell phones, night driving and passengers during an 18-month provisional period. The clock resets for any violation, and drivers who repeatedly break the rules can lose their driving privilege.
To keep young drivers alive, safety experts also advocate:
— Extending GDL to all novice drivers under age 21
— Continued “coaching” by parents after teens get licensed
— Early warning letters to parents after a first moving violation or crash
— Defensive driving courses in lieu of suspension or fines
— Requiring teens who park on campus to attend a safety program
— “Intoxilock” apps to prevent driving drunk
— Virtual reality “challenge” that safely simulates drunk driving
High schools, colleges and state officials across Maryland are already employing many of these tactics. Every little bit helps families avoid that life-altering phone call or knock on the door.
If a young driver in your family is injured or killed in a car accident, seek legal representation. Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz LLC serves Baltimore and all of Maryland.