Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teens in Ohio and across the United States despite multiple efforts at reducing the numbers, according to transportation safety experts.
In 2015 alone, 99,000 teen drivers were injured in crashes and 1,972 teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Across Ohio this year, 72 teens have died in crashes.
In the past three years in Ohio, 140,031 teens were involved in 131,982 crashes - 3,316 teens in Warren County alone, according to the the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT).
That represented 22 percent of the crashes in Warren County, leaving it second in Ohio to Holmes County where 23.3 percent of crashes involved teens.
Six other Miami Valley counties were among the top 25 in the state for percentage of crashes that involved teen drivers. Butler ranked 14th, Champaign (15), Miami (18), Greene (19), Darke (21) and Preble (25). Clark County ranked 65th and Montgomery County was 74th.
Teens generally represent only 5 percent of Ohio’s driving public, but were involved in 15 percent of crashes from 2014 to 2016, according to ODOT.
ODOT’s Highway Safety Team, a $130 million a year program, works to educate teens about the hazards of inexperience and distracted driving.
“We’re looking for trends among crashes,” said Matt Bruning, ODOT’s press secretary. “What can we do to try and prevent crashes?”
In Ohio, ODOT also works with developers of safe-driving technologies, such as the Transportation Research Center, the largest independent vehicle test facility and proving grounds in the U.S. and the Ohio State University’s Crash Imminent Safety University Transportation Center a $4.3 million initiative launched in 2013.
The center was funded by a $63 million transportation safety grant package announced from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration funding 33 university transportation center nationwide.
Another big player in driving safety, with a special focus on teens, is the American Automobile Association (AAA).
AAA offers “tips, tools, information and other resources” on teen drivers and passengers; teen drivers and cell phone use; and teen drivers and “Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers.”
In 2012, the AAA Foundation released a study that shows the presence of passengers in a vehicle increases the risk of fatal crash involvement for teenage drivers.
AAA also offers teens and their parents help in learning to drive safely.
Driver inexperience and inattention are the most common causes of teen crashes, according to ODOT.
Research shows teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazards and more likely than adults to make critical decision errors that lead to serious crashes.
“I need to not be distracted during driving because even when I think it won’t happen to me, it can happen,” Anna-Claire Barker, a junior at Kings High School in Warren County said after an ODOT safe driving program at her school this month.
After admitting to having texted while driving, Barker added, “There’s no such thing as safely texting and driving.”
Of the fatal teen crashes in Ohio this year, about 60 percent of teens were not wearing a seat belt, according to ODOT.
Bruning said, “Getting parents to be a good example” was part of ODOT’s strategy for getting teen drivers to buckle up.
ODOT saw improvement in teen-involved crashes end in 2014, when the number dropped to 41,432 from a high of 60,131 in 2007. The number has since begun creeping back up, to 46,265 in 2016.
Bruning suggested this correlated with the growing popularity of smart phones, but no data was available.
State lawmakers are also studying steps to reduce the incidence of teen crashes.
RELATED: Teens may seen driving law changes
House Bill 293, sponsored by Rep. Gary Scherer, R-Circleville,would delay teens from getting their drivers licenses and limit their driving once licensed.
• Lengthen the temporary instruction permit phase to 12 months, up from six months.
• Delay issuance of the first license to 16½ years of age.
• Prohibit newly licensed teens from driving without parental supervision between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Currently, the restricted hours start at midnight for those who have held a license for less than a year and 1 a.m. for those licensed for more than a year.
• Set a $5 application fee for driver’s license or renewal for anyone under 21. Current fees range from $2.25 to $7.25, depending on the young driver’s age.
More than 90 percent of all crashes are caused by human error, Bruning said.
In the long run, “a lot of us at ODOT” look forward to when teens - and other drivers - turn over control of vehicles to autonomous or connected cars, he said.
“This is a game changer in terms of safety,” Bruning said.
Meanwhile, ODOT and others will urge teens - and all drivers - to be safer behind the wheel.
We at ODOT can’t eliminate crashes. That has to happen with drivers,” Bruning said.
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