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Virginia Highway Safety Office News Releases

Thursday, July 16, 2009
Media Contact: Melanie Stokes
Department of Motor Vehicles
(804) 367-6623

Teen Traffic Fatalities Increase During Summer
Students Are Out of School and Driving More

RICHMOND - Teens have a greater chance of dying in their cars in the summer time than any other time throughout the year.

"During the summer months, young drivers have more time on their hands and a care-free vacation attitude," said Martha Meade, Manager of Public and Governmental Relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "Combine this with the fact that they are inexperienced drivers and the number of crashes rises." She estimates teens drive 44 percent more during the summer months compared to the school year.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drivers between 15 and 20 account for less than seven percent of America's licensed drivers, yet are responsible for more than 20 percent of the nation's annual traffic fatalities. Locally, drivers between 16 and 19 account for only 4 percent of licensed drivers in the Commonwealth, but are responsible for 11 percent of Virginia's crashes.

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"Teens are easily distracted by nature and believe that nothing will happen to them," Meade said. "They often don't associate the dire consequences of looking down for that one or two additional seconds that it takes to tend to something inside the car."

According to DMV's Virginia Highway Safety Office (VAHSO), 35 teens ages 15 to 19 died in traffic fatalities in Virginia during May, June, July and August 2008. Fifty teens died on Virginia's roads during that same time period in 2007.

"These may seem like just numbers, but they represent our daughters, sons, brothers, sisters and loved ones who are gone forever," said VAHSO Director John Saunders. "Summer has the potential to be a memorable time spent with friends and family. To make sure this summer is a good one, adults need to take time to supervise their teen drivers, and teens need to act like responsible young adults."

AAA Mid-Atlantic and the VAHSO recommend parents always know where their teens are going in their vehicles, and they talk to their children about potential dangers, such as the availability of alcohol at summer gatherings. According to NHTSA, drivers between 15 and 20 are more often involved in alcohol-related crashes than any other age group.

Parents should remind their young drivers about Virginia's teen driving restrictions. "These laws are designed to help teens stay safe while they gain valuable driving experience," Saunders said. Virginia's curfew restriction states that those under 18 are prohibited from driving from midnight to 4 a.m. unless:

  • there is an emergency
  • the driver is traveling to and from work or a school-sponsored event
  • the driver is accompanied by a parent or other adult acting in place of a parent
  • the driver is responding to an emergency call as a fire or rescue volunteer

As for passenger restrictions, drivers under 18 may carry only one passenger under 18 during the first year they hold a license. After one year, drivers may carry only three passengers under 18 until the driver turns 18. Those with a learner's permit may not carry more than one passenger under 18. Passenger restrictions do not apply to family members. Violations of either the curfew or passenger restrictions can result in driver's license suspension.

Virginia's cell phone law restricts drivers under 18 from using any wireless telecommunications device, including cell phones, regardless of whether it is hand-held or not. Texting and emailing while driving are also prohibited for all drivers. Exceptions are for a driver emergency or when the vehicle is lawfully parked.

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