Taking a long view, Maryland Delegate William A. Bronrott regards what happened in the fall of 2004 as the primary reason why his series of bills on teen driving made it out of the state's General Assembly last session.
In just one-week, five teenagers in sprawling Montgomery County died in three separate car crashes. The accidents varied in cause and circumstance, but for Bronrott, the connecting thread was the fact that the driver in each incident was a teen. The accidents generated an enormous amount of local media coverage and ultimately helped capture the attention of his fellow legislators.
"I think the rash of crashes got a lot of people around here to thinking," says Bronrott. "In effect, those accidents served as a wake-up call for many of my colleagues who were not aware that highway crashes are the number one cause of death and disabling injuries among teens today."
In 2002, nationally, some 1,692 teens died as a result of suicide, and just over 2,000 were the victims of homicide. But nearly three times as many, or more than 6,000, died as the result of a motor vehicle crash.
"By far, teens have the highest crash rates of any age group, and when you look within that group, 16-year-olds have the highest crash rate of all," says Susan Ferguson, senior vice president for research with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Although young drivers comprise only 7 percent of all drivers, 15 percent of drivers in fatal crashes are between the ages of 15 and 20. And among 16- to 20-year-olds, the fatality rate in motor vehicles crashes was twice the rate for all ages in 2002.
"Teen driver crashes involve many more people than just teens," says Elizabeth Vermette, the director of state relations with the American Automobile Association. "Usually when you read about these kinds of tragedies it's a beautiful young girl who was the homecoming queen and valedictorian and is now dead," says Vermette. "You rarely hear about the other people involved who may be of any age."
Between 1995 and 2004, some 30,917 people died in accidents where the driver was between the ages of 15 and 17, according to a AAA study. Only 36 percent of those who died were teens; 63 percent--or 19,740 people--were passengers, the other drivers or pedestrians of all ages.
Other statistics are revealing: the crashes of teenagers are more likely to involve speeding; teens are more likely to be involved in single-vehicle fatal crashes; and more teens drive in older cars and at night than their adult counterparts.
"In urban areas you tend to get more crashes, but few that are fatal," says Ferguson. "And that's because urban congestion is actually a good thing when it comes to serious and fatal injuries because it forces drivers to slow down."
Experts say that even though the number of motor vehicle deaths involving...