They pack their friends into cars and speed. They ignore seat belts. Car wrecks kill more of them than all diseases combined. As this month's horrific accident in Seminole showed yet again, few things are scarier than teenagers behind the wheel. Based on miles driven, teens are three times more likely than the average driver to get into a fatal crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Wild kids die. Straight-A students die. Sometimes kids whose parents set strict standards make one mistake and die.
Inexperience plays a part, as does poor judgment. In one national focus group, a teen said he drives better while rocketing up to 100 mph because speed heightens his senses. A 2007 study by AAA showed that one-fourth of 16- and 17-year-olds text-message while driving. Clemson University showed the danger of such behavior by having students in a driving simulator text while navigating a mock curvy road. One in 10 veered out of their lane while punching letters into their cell phones. Like many other states, Florida has reduced fatalities by placing restrictions on first-year drivers. But even the most watchful, involved parents live on edge when their child takes to the road. Here are some of the basics about teens and fatal crashes.
For the driver, it's a guy thing
Male drivers of every age die in cars way more than female drivers do. The gap doesn't narrow until people reach their late 40s and early 50s, when women begin to outnumber men in the general population.
As passengers, girls beware
Boys die more frequently than girls as passengers, but the gender gap is much narrower than it is for drivers. While 23 percent of teen drivers who die in crashes are girls, 42 percent of dead passengers are. After the teen years, passenger deaths start to decline, suggesting older people are less likely to travel in large, disruptive groups.
Safety tips for parents
• Let your child do the driving when you are both in the car, giving him or her plenty of supervised experience under different road conditions.
• Set firm penalties for alcohol use and lack of seat belt use. Slightly over half of teens involved in fatal crashes wore them. Those who didn't were 2 1/4 times more likely to die.
• Ban cell phone use while driving. Some cell phone bills allow you to compare times of calls to times when your child is driving, such as to and from school. Lead by example.
• Ban other teen passengers whenever practical. Limit their numbers. Four passengers are more dangerous than one.
• Monitor your child's traffic tickets at www6.hsmv.state.fl.us/DLCheck/main.jsp
Sources: Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Florida Highway Patrol, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Safety Council