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Young drivers

Published September 29. 2011 05:01PM

According to car accident statistics involving Pennsylvania teens, the number of fatalities for 16 and 17-year-olds increased to 57 last year.

The numbers nationally are even more gripping as car accidents remain the number one cause of death of people 16-20 years old.

In 2009, 3,214 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 were killed in car accidents. Of that number, 2,336 were drivers and another 196,000 were injured.

It is estimated that drivers under the age of 20 have a crash rate about 3.5 times higher than mature drivers and that on average, for every driver age 15 to 17 killed in a crash, there are nearly two other people who are killed in the accident. Crash rates are highest at age 16.

Many factors come into play with teen drivers. Because of their lack of experience on the road, they are more likely to underestimate hazardous driving conditions.

Teens also have the lowest rate of seat belt use. One survey showed that 10-percent of high school students said they rarely or never use a seat belt when riding with someone else.

A shocking 61 percent admitted to risky driving habits. For example, teen drivers were more likely to speed and allow shorter distances between cars than any other age group.

We are a mobile society of cell phone users and distracted driving is a big problem on our roadways. Talking on a cell phone, for instance, can double the likelihood of an accident and can slow a young driver's reaction time to that of a 70-year old.

In 2009, 18 percent of all teen motor vehicle crash fatalities involved distracted driving, and teens are three times more likely to be involved in fatal car accidents than any other age group.

A whopping 56 percent of teens admit to talking on their cell phone while driving and 13 percent of teens admit to texting while driving. Nearly half of Americans between 12 and 17 reported being in a car when the driver was text messaging.

Given these sobering statistics, we welcome the new bill passed by the state House of Representatives Wednesday which imposes tougher rules for young drivers.

Under House Bill 9, sponsored by Bucks County Rep. Rep. Kathy Watson, teen drivers without a parent in the car would only be allowed to carry one friend or similar person under age 18 who is not a member of their own household for the first six months. After that period, if the driver has not caused an accident, he or she would be restricted to three such passengers.

The bill expands the number of hours of behind-the-wheel experience needed under a learner's permit to quality for a junior license from 50 to 65 hours and requires that 10 hours include nighttime and inclement weather driving.

Under the bill, failure to wear seat belts is a primary offense, which means police could pull over those under age 18 who they see driving without a seat belt, of if they see anyone in the car who is not properly restrained.

Gov. Tom Corbett's office said he intends to sign the measure. It's a good step in helping to reduce those grim teen driving statistics, some of which have personally touched us or our school communities.

By Jim Zbick

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