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First Teen Drivers Safety Week begins

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The first-ever, National Teen Drivers Safety Week starts today.

A congressional bill, passed in early September, established the five-day period to bring national attention to teen driving dangers, and the number of deaths related to teen driving.

The bill, sponsored by 50 members of the U.S. Congress, states:

· Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for adolescents and many of those deaths are preventable

· 7,500 drivers, between the ages of 15 and 20 were involved in fatal crashes in 2005

· The fatality rate in the United States for teen drivers is four times the rate for other drivers

According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration's statistics, there were 1,254 deaths related to teen driving in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in 2005. Of the dead, 753 were drivers, between the ages of 15 and 20, 318 were passengers, 329 were the occupants of another vehicle, and 111 were outside of any vehicle.

In Clayton County, during the same year, there were two traffic fatalities associated with teen driving, according to Governor's Office of Highway Safety numbers. In Henry County, there were three.

Those numbers were down from previous years.

Both counties saw a peak in teen-driving-related deaths in 2003: Five in Clayton, seven in Henry.

Public, and especially parental attention, can bring the number of deaths down, according to the bill designating the third week of October as National Teen Drivers Safety Week. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, which pushed the bill, did a survey of teens, and found that parents and teens, nationally, need to increase their awareness of some driving dangers.

The hospital's promotion of the awareness week suggests parents make driving part of everyday conversation and invest the time to give their younger drivers needed experience. It suggests that teens be urged to take driving seriously, pay attention to potential crash situations, and to beware of distractions, including cell phones, fatigued driving, nighttime driving, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

AAA also lists racing, speeding, text messaging, applying make-up and changing CDs as potentially deadly distractions which ought to be avoided.

Kevin Bakewell, AAA spokesman for the Southeast, urged parents to take the week to drive with teens and talk to teens. AAA also is urging lawmakers to increase restrictions on young drivers.

"Much is left to be done to decrease the number of crashes and fatalities that involve teenagers," Bakewell said. "That includes more parental involvement, proper education, implementation or revision of graduated driver-licensing laws, and increased awareness."