By Nancy Wride
As the graduation season kicks into high gear, the merriment also brings peril on the roads for teenagers, who suffer the most traffic deaths in April, May and June, officials say.
“They’ve done a really great job at our school, with a great deal of effort by volunteer parents, to keep kids from drinking and going to hotels,” said Lee Wardlaw, a well-known children’s book author and parent. Her son, a newly graduated Santa Barbara High School honors student, will be among thousands who attend Disneyland’s storied grad night party. “My son isn’t part of a group that drinks, but he certainly knows people who drink.”
As high school graduations continued this June, news broke of a new study that showed traffic crashes are the No. 1 killer of American teenagers. The new report, called “Teens in Cars,” was funded by the General Motors Foundation and based on a national survey of 1,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 19.
Interestingly, only 10% of the surveyed students reported drinking before the crash. Half of the fatally injured teens were not wearing seat belts. And the teen crashes killed nearly as many passengers as drivers. This means even teenagers who aren’t driving need to stay sober to avoid riding with a driver who is not.
The California Office of Traffic Safety says the spring months of April through June are the most dangerous for teens on the roadways.
“Graduation night often poses many safety hazards for new graduates behind the wheel,” said OTS Director Rhonda Craft. “It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the day, but speeding, driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, while distracted, or without seat belts are all behaviors that can instantly turn a fun celebration into a tragedy.”
The younger and newer the driver, the more prone he or she is to crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were 1,875 young drivers who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012, with an additional 184,000 suffering injuries. Dovetailing with the General Motors report, the federal NHTSA said traffic collisions are the leading cause of death among those ages 15 to 20.
The California Office of Traffic Safety noted that the state has a zero-tolerance policy for minors driving impaired, either by substance or distracted driving, which may be caused by texting or cell phone use. There is a no blood-alcohol content (BAC) law for minors.
“It’s important for graduates and all young people to remember safe driving rules so that they can get themselves and their passengers to and from fun events,” Craft said. “Graduation day is such an accomplishment for family and students alike, and every precaution possible should be taken to ensure that it’s a day that is remembered fondly.”
The Office of Traffic Safety offers these tips:
- Be responsible. Never, under any circumstance, let someone who’s been drinking be a driver. Take the initiative to arrange a sober ride home. A taxi, family members or sober friends are all good options.
- Buckle up. Always wear a seat belt and make sure everyone else in the car does, too.
- Silence your cell phones. When driving, pay attention to the road and silence your cell phone. Ask passengers to avoid distracting the driver, and concentrate on getting safely to and from the destination
- Be a good host. If you’re hosting a graduation party for the new grad, ensure that all of your guests designate a sober driver in advance, or arrange for alternative transportation to events. Stock non-alcoholic beverages and food for your guests.