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Your friends can wait

EDITORIAL

There are plenty of things that make summer special. Long days at the beach. Watermelons. Independence Day. Sunsets. But summer is also the most dangerous time for teen drivers, so much so that the period following Memorial Day has been labeled the “100 Deadliest Days” by the American Automobile Association.

During the summer months, young drivers are more apt to be behind the wheel, perhaps on their way somewhere to partake in one of those special summer activities they’ve been dreaming about for the last half of the school year. That extra driving time, combined with inexperience and — in recent years — an alarming trend of increasing use of cellphones for texting and social media while driving, can be deadly.

According to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 60 percent of crashes involving teenagers include some form of distraction behind the wheel. Last summer, teen car accidents rose to 5,180, leaving 1,189 teens injured and 14 dead across the nation. Those crashes resulted in an additional 1,808 injuries and five fatalities to people other than the teen drivers involved.

Of course, teens aren’t the only ones who pick up their phones and drive while distracted. And distracted driving is not limited to the use of cellphones. The foundation found that the top three distractions for teens are talking to or attending to passengers, using cell phones and attending to or looking at something in the vehicle.

Anyone who’s ever been in a traffic accident can attest that things go wrong in a moment. Any of those distractions can result in an accident with devastating consequences, and the results are just as devastating whether the person who caused the accident is a distracted teen or a distracted adult.

The alarming thing, though, is that teen drivers seem disproportionately likely to be the ones texting and driving. A recent AAA survey found that nearly 50 percent of teen drivers admitted they had read a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days. Doing so, according to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, makes the driver 23 times more likely to have an accident than an undistracted driver.

AAA offers a free, 90-minute “Dare to Prepare” program, a pre-permit workshop that provides teens and parents with tools and resources to educate them about current laws involving the new driver and tips on how to stay safe on the road. For more information about the workshop, or to register, call 233-3889.

The organization also offers an online “StartSmart” program for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches. The program offers advice on how parents can manage their teen’s overall driving privileges.

AAA also suggested three simple steps parents can take before their teens take the wheel:

4Have frequent and early conversations about the dangers of distracted driving.

4Make a driving agreement with teens that sets family rules against distracted driving.

4And set good examples by minimizing distractions when parents are driving.

Answering that text while driving is a great temptation. Stand strong against that temptation. Your friends can wait.