The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Teen Driver Safety Week concluded Saturday. The observance has special significance year-round when realizing that more than 3,000 teens die every year and approximately 300,000 more are injured in automobile crashes.

In 2016, 3,500 teens lost their lives and 359,000 were injured in crashes nationwide. South Carolina saw 35 teen motorist deaths.

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Teenage drivers (15-19) have higher rates of crashes per licensed driver and per mile driven than any other age group.

The greatest threats behind the wheel for teens are alcohol, not wearing a seat belt, speeding, distraction and drowsy driving, according to AAA Carolinas.

Nationwide, approximately 58.5 percent of teen crashes are the direct result of some form of distracted behavior such as attending to passengers or cell phone use.

In a 2015 survey of drivers sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 70 percent of drivers ages 16-18 reported they had talked on a cell phone, 42 percent had read a text or e-mail and 32 percent had typed/texted while driving in the past 30 days.

Even with new car technology designed to curb handheld device use, a recent AAA Foundation study found these systems to be equally distracting. Voice-based and touch screen features require high levels of visual and mental demand for usually more than 40 seconds to complete a task such as navigation or sending a text.

However, removing eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk for a crash. Responding to a text takes a driver’s attention off the road for an average of five seconds. Traveling at 55 mph, motorists drive the length of a football field while responding to a text – while essentially blindfolded.

AAA reminds teens and their parents of the importance of taking precaution to and from school, as the majority of teen crashes (44.8 percent) occur between the hours of 6-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. on weekdays. It is during this time that traffic is usually the heaviest and many teen drivers may not have their full attention on the road.

Close to 25 percent of fatal teen crashes nationwide were attributed to alcohol in 2016, according to AAA. Twenty percent of traffic fatalities for 18 and 19 year-olds were due to driving with a blood-alcohol level over .01 – despite being underage.

Ironically, according to AAA, 88 percent of teens support a law requiring that all drivers convicted of a DUI use a device that won’t let their car start if they have been drinking, as opposed to 81 percent of drivers ages 33-55. Additionally, 75 percent of teens support in-car technology that won’t allow the car to start if the driver’s blood-alcohol level is over the legal limit, compared to 69 percent of drivers ages 35-55.

Parents and guardians are the first line of defense to curb the number of teen crashes that involve alcohol. Nationally, more than 80 percent of teens say parents are the leading influence in their decision about underage drinking.

The good news is the focus on teen driver safety is working. On the 10th anniversary of National Teen Driver Safety Week, things look much different than a decade ago. The number of teen deaths on the road has decreased nearly 43 percent.

But the deaths of 3,000 young people in a year can never be accepted. There must be no letup in efforts to keep teens from being killed on the highways.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s words say it all: “There's no tragedy in life like the death of a child.”

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