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WASHINGTON, D. C. (Friday, October 23, 2020) –– Although vehicular traffic plummeted, and high school students are studying online in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, sixteen teens, at the very least, have lost their young lives in traffic collisions, across Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia so far in 2020. Plus, at least three other teenagers were killed after being struck by cars across the region. The plurality of those tragic teen traffic deaths occurred in Virginia. An even larger number of persons were killed in crashes involving teen drivers in Virginia this year. This deathly toll is up so far this year on roadways across the Commonwealth. At least 55 persons perished in teen-related traffic crashes through mid-October 2020. This compares to an annual average of 51 persons through the middle of October the past five years.
In one such lethal incident, a 19-year-old driver triggered a deadly head-on collision while speeding that left two persons dead and four persons injured in Fauquier County on September 29, 2020. Statistically, such fatalities are up 7.2 percent through mid-October of this year in Virginia alone. Nevertheless, teenage Virginia drivers are involved in far fewer crashes overall to date in 2020. That is the case even though fewer vehicles and fewer motorists were traveling on roadways in the three jurisdictions, the District, Maryland, and Virginia, over the past few months amid the pandemic, and even as most high school pupils have been studying and learning remotely since March, as a result of coronavirus closures.
Remarkably, crashes and injuries involving teen drivers in Virginia are down nearly 30% year to date, compared to a year ago at this time. That’s according to an analysis by AAA of DMV Virginia Crash Data for the previous five years and the preliminary crash data for this year. Curiously, this fatal pattern is manifesting itself in the wake of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which is surging.
“Year after year a wealth of crash data reveals that teens are a vulnerable driver group with a higher probability of being involved in crashes. Unfortunately, this year is not the exception to the rule in Virginia, even though 2020 has been upended by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic,” explained John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “This is unfolding even as teens are presumably driving less due to the fact that high school buildings and campuses – the hubs of teenager daily life and routines - have been closed since springtime across the region as a result of the pandemic.”
This week is National Teen Driver Safety Week and parents must realize the next time they hand the car keys to their teens may be the last time they see them alive. Upon the loss of her beloved grandchild in a traffic crash this April, a Virginia grandmother lamented: “She was just a beautiful girl.” It is time for that long talk with your teen. “Yet one survey reveals ‘more than half of parents -61% - have become more concerned about their teen’s safe driving skills during the pandemic,’” noted Townsend. “‘About 9 in 10 parents -88% - worry their teen may be engaging in unsafe driving behaviors during the pandemic.’” For God’s sake and for your teen’s sake, remind your teen drivers that the greatest dangers that they face on the road are: “alcohol, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding, and number of passengers.”
Tragically, the number of fatalities involving a teen driver is higher in Virginia through October 16,2020, than was the average annual number of persons killed in a crash involving a teenage driver in the state through mid-October over the previous five-year period. For example, 55 persons have lost their lives in crashes involving teen drivers in Virginia, as of mid-October 2020. That compares to an average of 51 persons who perished in teen and rookie driver-related fatal crashes through the same time between 2015 and 2019.
Even so, through mid-October of 2020, Virginia witnessed 9,971 crashes involving teen drivers. In contrast, Virginia saw an average of 14,445 crashes a year involving teen driver over the same time frame through the middle of October from 2015 to 2019. It comprises a drop of 30%, compared to 2015 to 2019. This compares to nearly 14,000 crashes involving teen drivers in Maryland in the span of time from 2015 to 2019.
Unfortunately, so far, there is little 2020 data for Maryland appertaining to fatal teen crash rates in the state. Yet Maryland saw an average of 13,909 crashes a year involving teen drivers between 2015 and 2019. That’s according to an analysis by AAA Mid-Atlantic of Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO) Crash Data for young and rookie drivers in the highly vulnerable age range of 16-to-20 years old.
Of the total crashes in Maryland, for example, an average of 47 crashes per year were fatal crashes, resulting in 52 fatalities. Plus, an average of 4,538 crashes were injury crashes, resulting in 7,019 people injured. In 2019, for the last single year of available data, there were 13,692 total crashes of which 43 were fatal crashes resulting in 46 fatalities, and 4,395 were injury crashes resulting in 6,829 people injured.
With the onset of the pandemic and the subsequent raft of stay-at-home and social distancing protocols induced by coronavirus mitigation efforts, traffic volume plummeted precipitously on roadways in the Commonwealth and the Washington metro area. Starting in last March, parents and highway safety advocates were optimistic and hopeful they would see fewer crash fatalities involving a teen driver during 2020. Now they are increasingly worried as “traffic volume is beginning to rebound in Virginia with the easing of public health restrictions,” notes the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB). The traffic rebound is also occurring across the region too.
For perspective, “Fewer vehicles on the road during the COVID-19 crisis have contributed to a 45% decrease in all crashes,” as Shannon Valentine, Virginia Secretary of Transportation, said back in June. “But it is of great concern to see that the number of fatalities involving both speed and unrestrained travelers has increased by 78% during this time period compared to 2019. We are urging all motorists to drive the posted speed limit and wear seat belts.”
“Motor vehicles crashes are the leading cause of death for teens between 15 and 18 years old in the United States ahead of disease, injuries and violence,” said Townsend. “Parents can be the biggest influencers on the choices a teen makes behind the wheel. That’s why it’s so critical to talk with them. But don’t nag.”
AAA Offers Teen Safe Driving Tips for Parents
To support parents in conducting practice driving sessions during COVID-19 and beyond, AAA is providing a free four-page guide to help parents coach their teens on how to drive safely.
The “Coaching Your New Driver – An In-Car Guide for Parents” AAA ParentCoachingGuide 2020 offers behind-the-wheel lesson plans, including a variety of “DOs and DON’Ts” to make the learning experience as helpful as possible. For parents, the guide can be beneficial as they coach their teens on a variety of routes, building on their formal behind-the-wheel training.
TeenDriving.AAA.com has a variety of tools to help prepare parents and teens for the dangerous summer driving season. The online AAA StartSmart Parent Session also offers excellent resources for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches as well as advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges. Teens preparing for the responsibility of driving should enroll in a driver education program that teaches how to avoid driver distraction and other safety skills.
“We know that, in general, there has been a sharp increase in speeding this year among drivers of all age groups, including teen drivers, who are prone to make mistakes when they are first learning to drive,” Townsend noted. “Add to that the inexperience rookie drivers and it is no surprise that these numbers tell a tragic story. Parental guidance and involvement can change this outcome.”
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