Health Buzz: Teens Involved in Fewer Fatal Car Crashes

Plus, how parents can keep teen drivers safe.

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Fatal Teen Car Crashes Decrease, CDC Reports

The number of 16- and 17-year-olds killed in car crashes decreased by roughly a third over a five-year span, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2004, 2,230 teens of that age group were involved in fatal crashes, which by the end of 2008 had dropped to 1,437. Male teens accounted for 65 percent of all deaths over the five year study period, while females accounted for 35 percent; New York and New Jersey had the lowest rate of fatal crashes, while Wyoming had the highest.

Although fatal teen crashes have declined since 1996, they remain the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. "This is a call to action to teen drivers, parents and communities," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in a press release. "It's not right that teens would lose their lives on U.S. roads when there are proven methods for helping teens be safer drivers," like graduated driver licensing programs (which restrict when teens can drive and who they can transport) and parental involvement.

Indeed, parents can help teens stay safe behind the wheel—even with one simple trick: not giving teens a car they consider their own, U.S. News contributor Nancy Shute wrote last year.

From: Parents Keep Teen Drivers Safe When They Control the Car Keys

Teenagers who reported they were the main person driving a vehicle, rather than sharing it with other family members, were more than twice as likely to be involved in a recent crash. One in four drivers with primary access to a car had had an accident while driving in 2009, compared with 1 in 10 for shared access. That means 25 percent of the kids driving their "own" cars had at least one accident in 2009! The teens with their own car also were more likely to use a cellphone while driving (78 percent, compared with 55 percent) and to speed (70 percent vs. 54 percent). These figures come from a survey of 2,167 teenagers by researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. It is said to be the first survey to look at whether having primary access to a car affects safety for teenage drivers. It was published in Pediatrics.

What makes driving a family car safer? Maybe it's as simple as knowing that it's the fam's car. I vividly remember my horror when I backed into a car in the high school parking lot and crumpled the fender of the family Volkswagen. I'm sure the realization that it wasn't "my" car made me more contrite—and more careful, at least for a while.

Many parents are thrilled when their teenager is finally driving, and many teens need to drive themselves to school or work. As a result, it's easy for parents to think that a new driver needs a car. Indeed, the researchers found that 70 percent of the teenagers said that they had their "own" car. This is dangerous, the researchers say, and parents should consider delaying giving a child a car at least until the teenager has been driving for a year.

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