Preventing Teen Motor Vehicle Accidents: Multifaceted Approaches to Making a Difference

Article excerpt

DATA FROM THE 2007 WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for 13- to 18-year-olds in the United States, with motor vehicle accidents accounting for approximately 70 percent of deaths. In total, 3,733 teens died in the year 2007 from motor-vehicle-related accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also surveys high school students every two years through the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS). The YRBSS provides additional data on the scope of unintentional injuries--in particular, spotlighting behaviors that may be contributing to teen deaths in motor vehicle accidents. Its 2009 report indicated the following:

* Nearly 10 percent of teens rarely or never wore a seatbelt.

* About 28 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol one or more times in the last 30 days.

* Nearly 10 percent drove when drinking alcohol one or more times in last 30 days.

These data have important implications regarding prevention efforts.

Graduated Driver Licensing

A key prevention initiative is the graduated driver-licensing program that phases in full driving privileges for teens. Inexperienced drivers are involved in two times more crashes as experienced drivers. Several factors that play a role in teen motor vehicle accidents are overestimation of driving abilities, speeding, low risk appraisal of dangerous driving behaviors and developmental immaturity. Graduated driver licensing is in place in all U.S. states; however, many parents are still un-aware of the restrictions associated with each phase. In an effort to keep parents informed, schools should hold informational meetings and distribute information about the graduated driver licensing laws in their respective state.


There are typically three stages to the graduated driver-licensing system:

1. Supervised learner's period

2. Intermediate licensing that limits driving in high-risk situations except under supervision (driving at night and driving anytime with numerous passengers)

3. Gaining a license with full privileges and no restrictions

Access to Driver Education

An equally important factor is student access to and completion of driver education. A recent article featured in the March 2012 journal Pediatrics highlighted several moderators that reduced the likelihood of students completing driver education in both states that mandated it as well as those that did not. Data from a 2006 survey consisting of 1,770 high school students (who held driver licenses) revealed that Hispanic and African American students, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and students with lower academic achievement were less likely to complete driver education. This raises the question: How can we make driver education more accessible to all students?

After tragic car accidents, it is very common for students to want to do something to channel their emotions toward preventing further deaths. …