Driving Distractions: More Teens Involved in Fatal Crashes

By: Melissa Wollering Email
By: Melissa Wollering Email

Traffic accidents are now the number one killer of teenagers in America and a new study finds distractions like cells phones and noisy friends may be big factors in the crashes.

The new findings come at at time when there have been a number of fatal crashes involving teens in south central Wisconsin. Last week, a 16-year-old Edgerton girl was killed in a crash in the town of Albion. Last month, an 18-year-old Stoughton girl was killed in another collision.

Teens in Monona Grove have the luxury of heading off-campus to grab lunch, but many of the high school students may have too many distractions while they're driving.

"I know when I drive in the car with my friends it's like they're looking for CD's when driving and then they'll have a cigarette at the same time," says Monoa Grove freshman Karli Springer.

"They swerve into the other lane," says sophomore Stacy Conant.

A new study relased by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Companies finds distractions are leading to more deadly crashes among teens. Eighty-nine percent of teens report seeing one of their peers drive while using a cell phone, while nearly half admitted doing it themselves. Only sixty-five percent of teens surveyed said they wore safety belts regularly and half admitted speeding ten miles per hour or more over the limit.

"Now they have those things where they plug into your cigarette lighters for your IPODS and they're always going through their music, looking for CD's to put in," says Springer.

Brad Bodden with American Family Insurance says it is not his place to preach, but he does talk to teen drivers about consequences.

"Insurance companies know that youthful drivers or people without a lot of driving experience have accidents," says Bodden.

Bodden says teens hear a lot about the consequences of drinking and driving, yet he feels driving while distracted can be just as risky.

"It only takes a split second of a distraction, so it isn't just the alcohol," says Bodden. "The distractions are just as big a factor."

Springer says having other passengers in the car can be another risk to teens with too much on their minds.

"People usually don't follow that at all, they'll just pile a bunch of people in their car," says Springer. "Usually when they do that, they'll drive safer and make sure they don't get pulled over because then they'll get in trouble for having too many people in the car."

The study did find that kids with safe driving habits have parents who are actively involved in teaching their children tend to be responsible behind the wheel.

Wisconsin's Department of Justice also announced Thursday that it is teaming up with the Ad Council for a new campaign targeted at teens. The department acknowledges that young drivers are more likely to speed, run red lights, and make illegal turns. They say research also shows teens are involved in more than five times as many fatal crashes as adults. The new campaign promotes the message "Speak Up, You Are the Spokesperson" and encourages young adults to tell those they are driving with if they do not feel safe.

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