July 4: Deadliest day for teen drivers

The deadliest day in the deadliest season for teenage drivers will fall Wednesday as the nation celebrates Independence Day, according to AAA.

Free from school and homework, teenagers spend more hours behind the wheel in the summer, and four of the days when the most teen fatalities were recorded fall in those months. July 4 tops a list that includes July 9, Aug. 8 and Aug. 14. The end of the school year produced three other dates that made the top 10 — June 10, May 20 and May 23.

“Teen driving goes up by 44 percent during the summertime, and during these months, teens tend to drive more often . . .and they have less parental supervision than they do during the school year,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “Nearly a third — 32 percent — of Maryland’s teen driver and passenger deaths happen in the carefree summer months.”

The good news is that teen fatalities have dropped drastically, notably in the Washington area. But they are still the leading cause of death among the youngest drivers. In 2010, 3,115 teenagers ages 13 to 19 died in motor vehicle crashes.

The decline in teen deaths has been sharper than the overall drop in highway fatalities, which is attributed largely to the graduated licensing requirements that have been embraced by the District and most states, including Maryland and Virginia.

Research by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia compared data for 2009 and 2010 with those from 2005 and 2006. It showed that teen fatalities dropped by almost 49 percent in Maryland and by more than 56 percent in Virginia. There were no data for the District.

If all states adopted the toughest form of graduated licensing, an additional 500 lives could be saved and 9,500 crashes could be prevented, according to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The AAA, in information released Monday and based on crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said almost one in 10 of those who have died on July 4 has been a teenager.

From 2006 to 2010, nearly 6,700 teen drivers and passengers ages 13 to 19 died in traffic crashes between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to AAA. An average of 399 teens died in traffic crashes in each of the summer months compared with 346 teen deaths in non-summer months.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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