It is wonderful that many organizations, including mine, EndDD.org (End Distracted Driving), will be holding events, providing resources and highlighting measures to keep teens safer on the highways this week. Focusing attention on the epidemic of teen crashes, including fatalities, can only help in our battle to keep our teens safe. But given that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, shouldn't we be working to save teen lives all year long? 2015 saw the largest percentage increase in traffic fatalities in 50 years, reversing what had been a general downward trend in traffic fatalities since 2007. In a recent GHSA report, it was found that crash fatalities for teens increased by 10%, a greater percentage than any other age group. Preliminary estimates for 2016 suggest that this awful trend will continue and that 2015 was not an aberration. Teens are killed in motor vehicle crashes at a rate almost three times that of any other age group. It is undisputed that our cars have gotten safer with more airbags, electronic stability control and anti-lock braking systems. Programs targeting seat belt use and impaired driving have also reduced crashes and, together with safety improvements to our cars, are likely explanations for the downward trend in fatalities from 2007-14. So how do we explain this sudden increase in traffic fatalities generally, and specifically for teens?
In its "2015 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview," NHTSA noted that there was a 7.2% increase in fatalities in 2015 as compared with 2014. In looking closer at the data, for fatalities attributable to "Human Choice," it was found that no category increased as much as fatalities attributable to distracted driving. Specifically, distracted driving fatalities increased by 8.8.%, fatalities attributable to failure to wear seat belts 4.9%, from impaired driving 3.2% and from speeding 3.0%. It has long been believed that the percentage of crashes caused by distracted driving is underreported, and a recent study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggested that distracted driving now may be involved in more than 50% of serious teen crashes.
So what can we do 52 weeks of the year to keep our children safe? Parents can put away their smartphones while driving and model safe distraction-free driving for their children. Parents need to be the drivers that they want their children to be. All of us, teens and adults, when passengers, must require our drivers to drive without distraction. As passengers, we have a choice to sit in the car and keep quiet when our driver drives unsafely or we can speak up. Speaking up and insisting that we be driven distraction-free shows that we care and can change drivers' behaviors.
Through EndDD.org, I speak with teens and adults across the country about distracted driving using science-based presentations developed with the help of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia(CHOP). I became a traffic safety advocate because my daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver in 2009. EndDD.org has partnered with the American Association for Justice(AAJ), the national trial lawyers' association to provide distracted driving presentations without any cost to middle school, high school or college students during the 2016-17 academic year. Through our volunteer network of speakers we have already given more than 50 presentations, since August to more than 15,000 students and the feedback has been very positive. We are on track to surpassing our goal of presenting to 100,000 students by June of 2017. To schedule a presentation in your community go to http://www.enddd.org/host-a-presentation/
I will never come to grips with the fact that I am alive and my child is dead and that I am the one with the future. I have not and will never get over the loss of Casey. It overwhelms me when I consider the enormity of the collective grief of families who have lost children in car crashes. We lose nearly 3,000 teens a year in car crashes. For every child lost there are grieving parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts and friends. And more and more children will die in car crashes and more and more families will suffer until we decide that enough is enough. Distracted driving crashes are preventable. We can prevent our children from being killed or injured in these crashes. But we need to commit to making our children's safety a priority this week and every week. Our children deserve nothing less.
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