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The One Hundred Deadliest Days of Summer

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

Increased Risk of Teen Car Crashes and Fatalities

The three-month period between Memorial Day and Labor Day – known in the Northern Hemisphere as summer – is famous for many things and beloved for many reasons. School’s out. Families go on vacation. Kids of all ages go to camp. Teenagers get their first jobs, hang out with friends, and find ways to fill the long hours between sunup and sundown with fun activities that don’t get them in too much trouble. The default perfect summer day: wake up late, go to the pool, forget to reapply sunscreen, come home tired, sunburnt, and hungry. That perfect day most definitely does not include getting in a fatal car crash. Unfortunately, statistics say that during the summer, teen driving fatalities increase dramatically.

That’s not happy news at all.

Thanks to the wealth of information we have on the matter, however, there are several simple, practical steps parents and teens can take to prevent a glorious, carefree summer day from turning into an infamous day of tragedy.

First, we’ll share the facts about summertime, teens, and driving. Then you’ll understand why we’re using such dramatic, alarmist language about the topic. We admit it: at first blush, the words deadly, tragic, and infamous seem over the top. Once you read the numbers, we have the feeling that you’ll want to get melodramatic and alarmist with your teenagers.

Because honestly, they’re that bad.

Teenagers: Summer Driving Statistics

We Save Lives, a non-profit organization with a mission to “…support and promote solution driven policies and programs that save lives by changing dangerous driving choices through viral awareness, education, advocacy and partnerships” presents a set of summer driving facts supported by data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Any parent who knows these facts will find them impossible to ignore:

  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, accounting for over 33% of all accidental deaths.
  • Teenagers crash cars at a higher rate than any other age group.
  • Teen car crash fatalities increase by 26% in the summer months.
    • An average of 260 teens per month die in car crashes during summer
  • Distracted driving accounts for 60% of teen car crashes.
    • 12% are caused by texting or talking on the phone
    • 15% are caused by distractions from passengers
  • During June, July, and August, 43% of car crashes involving teens result in fatalities
  • 60% of fatal car crashes involving teens are alcohol-related
    • Almost 50% of alcohol-related teen driving fatalities occur on Friday and Saturday nights

We know – it doesn’t seem fair to give you one more thing to worry about this summer. You’ve got enough on your plate already. The sad truth is that accidents do happen, and it’s impossible to prevent all of them. There’s another truth to find here, however: there are clear and obvious ways to reduce the risk of both teen car crashes and the fatalities that accompany them all too often.

What You Can Do

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

And then communicate some more.

Teenagers often check out, mentally, when their parents start in on their this is for your best interest lectures. Their eyes glaze over and they start thinking about anything but what you’re talking about. You can’t afford to let them do that for this lecture. Make sure you have their undivided attention, perhaps by starting the conversation with something like this:

“All of your car privileges this summer depend on you listening to what I’m about to say.”

We think that will penetrate the teen glaze and bring their priorities into sharp focus. Their priorities, of course – their main priority – being access to the car and the freedom it brings. Once you have their eyes and ears on you, walk them through the statistics we presented above. If they don’t seem to take you seriously, there’s always the option of showing them pictures of crumpled cars and graphic images of injuries – but that’s a bit of overkill, only to be used as a last resort. After sharing the stats and perhaps scaring then with pictures, make them agree to a set of hard and fast ground rules for driving this summer.

Here’s what we suggest:

  1. Limit their driving at night and on the weekends. Once it’s dark, the danger goes up. Decide what you’re comfortable with, set the time, and stick to it: 9:00 pm seems reasonable. Anything that happens after that can be accomplished either by parent taxi, actual taxi, or any of the new-generation ride services like Uber or Lyft.
If they don’t agree, take the keys.
  1. Limit the number of passengers they’re allowed to have in the car. The statistics don’t specify a number of passengers over which an accident is more likely, but a limit of 2-3 passengers seems reasonable: one in the passenger seat in front, two more in back – all safely buckled in, of course. We don’t want to deprive anyone of rocking out with the windows down and the music turned up, but remind your teen that if they’re behind the wheel, their one and only job is to arrive alive. There will be plenty of time for rocking out when they’re not behind the wheel.
If they don’t agree, take the keys.
  1. Make them commit to never, ever texting, talking on the phone, or using the phone in any way while driving.
If they don’t agree, take the keys.
  1. Make them commit to never, ever driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Not only is it illegal and can result in fines, a suspended license, and even jail time, it dramatically increases their chances of causing a fatal crash.
If they don’t agree, take the keys.
  1. Make them commit to never, ever getting in a car with someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and encourage them to intervene when they see friends making poor decisions with regards to drugs, alcohol, and driving.
If they don’t agree, don’t let them go out with friends who have cars.

It Starts With You

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: your kids are more likely to do what you do than do what you say. What this means, in this context, is simple:

YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO MODEL APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR.

Sorry (not sorry) for shouting: that’s the first time we’ve ever used all caps in a blog post.

But it’s for a good reason.

Your kids watch every move you make. No matter how much you talk about the dangers of texting and driving, if you do it, your kids probably will, too. The same goes for alcohol. If you’re at a summer barbecue, pool party, or 4th of July event, do not drive after drinking. Technically, one beer won’t put you over the limit, but we think showing your kids that driving after drinking anything at all is a big mistake.

It is never acceptable to load the family in the minivan after an afternoon of beer and burgers. It is never acceptable to drink several glasses of wine over dinner and then load the family into the minivan for the short ride home. It is never acceptable to drink and drive or text and drive, period: if you do either, your actions condone the behaviors, and your teenager will be more likely to do them, which significantly increases their risk of being involved in a fatal car crash.

The takeaway: talk to your kids about driving safety. Make solid rules with clear consequences that everyone understands ahead of time. If they break the rules, don’t let them off the hook. Follow through the first times so the lesson sticks. That way, you and your teen can change The 100 Deadliest Days of Summer to The 100 Best Days of The Year.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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