WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation launched a campaign Tuesday challenging parents to discuss driving safety with their teenagers in order to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes, the No. 1 killer of 14- to 18-year-olds in the United States, according to federal data.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration scheduled the launch to coincide with National Teen Driver Safety Week. The campaign encourages parents to spend time each day during the week discussing one of the “5 to Drive” safety topics: No cellphone use or texting while driving, no extra passengers, no speeding, no alcohol and no driving or riding without a seat belt.
The campaign “is about getting parents to engage in an ongoing discussion with teens about safe driving,” said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David L. Strickland. “As it happens, right now we’re losing way too many young people in crashes that are 100 percent preventable.”
Strickland said 2,105 teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes in 2011, and 45 percent of them died in the wrecks. His agency designed the safety topic list to counteract poor driving decisions that studies indicate contribute significantly to the high death rate among teenage drivers.
Strickland cited federal data showing that in 2011, speeding was a factor in 35 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. It also shows that more than half the teenage passengers who died in crashes were unrestrained, 12 percent of teen drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time and 505 people died in crashes in which drivers 14 to 18 had alcohol in their systems.
Parents can play an integral role in preventing crashes involving teens, said Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston, the scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Winston said a recent survey of 5,500 teens across the country, conducted with State Farm Insurance Companies, found that teenagers were 50 percent less likely to crash when parents “set clear rules, keep track of their activities and do so in a supportive manner.”
Strickland noted the importance of supporting teens who make safe driving decisions. He mentioned an incident earlier this month in which a Massachusetts high school punished senior honor student Erin Cox after she went to pick up a friend from a party because she didn’t want her friend to drive drunk or get into a vehicle with an intoxicated driver.
North Andover High School demoted Cox from her post as the captain of the school’s volleyball team and suspended her for five games.
“I appreciate the fact that we want to make sure that it is a zero-tolerance situation regarding teens and alcohol. They shouldn’t be drinking at all,” Strickland said. “But the last thing you want to do is to punish that teen that made the right decision.”