- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Teenagers who get behind the wheel in the D.C. region pose a risk to themselves and others, according to a study released yesterday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

“Parents have to take charge of the situation,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. He cited statistics analyzed by the AAA foundation indicating that from 1995 to 2004, motor vehicle accidents involving drivers younger than 17 in Maryland, Virginia and the District killed 1,105 persons.

Young drivers and their passengers accounted for 10 of 24 deaths from such accidents in the District, while eight occupants of other vehicles and six pedestrians or cyclists were killed.

The Maryland data indicates that of 406 traffic deaths, 170 were the young drivers or their passengers. In Virginia, the youngsters accounted for 505 of 675 reported deaths.

“In Maryland and Virginia, teen drivers are killing themselves and their passengers. In D.C., teen drivers are killing other drivers and pedestrians,” Mr. Townsend said.

Nationwide, the study found that about one-third of the people killed in automobile crashes involving young drivers were pedestrians or occupants of other vehicles.

From 1995 to 2004, nearly 31,000 people were killed in crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 17, the study found. And of the 30,917 deaths during the span, 11,177, or 36.2 percent, were the teen drivers.

The national death toll included 9,847 passengers of the teen drivers, or 31.8 percent; 7,477 occupants of other vehicles operated by drivers at least 18 years of age, or 24.2 percent; and 2,323 pedestrians and bicyclists, or 7.5 percent. There were 93 fatalities in which the ages of the victims were unknown.

“While we may think of this as being a teen driver problem, it really affects a much broader audience,” said Robert Darbelnet, AAA president and chief executive.

Safety groups say distractions and risks grow sharply for teen drivers at night and when they travel with their friends.

“Regardless of what the state law says, parents should not allow their teen to ride with other teen drivers, nor should they be allowed to transport other teens in the first year of driving,” Mr. Darbelnet said.

In the District, the Metropolitan Police Department is participating in an ongoing community education effort promoting driver safety in the city’s high schools. Police conducted sobriety checkpoints every weekend of 2005 and hope to continue those efforts this year.

“There’s zero tolerance for alcohol for all underaged drivers,” said Capt. Melvin E. Gresham, who commands the police department’s traffic -enforcement unit.

Mr. Town-send said five tougher teen-age driving regulations enacted in Maryland last year are examples of actions that the District and Virginia might consider to reduce the number of serious accidents involving young drivers.

Since October, Maryland teens have been required to use their learner’s permits for six months before getting provisional licenses. They are restricted from driving unrelated minors for the first five months that they hold provisional licenses, unless accompanied by adults. The provisional license is issued for 18 months and can be revoked for moving violations.

Maryland drivers younger than 18 also are prohibited from using cell phones if they hold a learner’s permit or provisional license.

“They’ve seen firsthand the tremendous toll we’re paying for letting teen drivers do their own things behind the wheel,” Mr. Townsend said.

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