For many teens, summer means less stress and little structure, with more time to hit the road with a new license and friends.
That terrifies local law enforcement.
The number of vehicle crashes involving teenage drivers typically climbs during the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, officials said.
Known as the “deadliest days” for teens, a study released recently by the AAA Foundation found that teenager-involved crash deaths increased by 16 percent during the summer compared with the rest of the year. And nearly 60 percent of more than 2,200 crashes examined were caused by distracted driving.
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The most common distractions: passengers and cellphones, the study, which looked at crashes nationwide from 2007 to 2012, found.
Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Kim Montes said troopers regularly see those problems on Central Florida roads. Understanding the incessant need teens have to be on their phones can be hard for older generations to understand, she said, but it’s important for parents to “constantly” remind their young drivers of its dangers.
Her 18-year-old son has been learning safe-driving techniques since he was a kid, she said. But she continues to remind him everyday – especially now that’s he’s out of school.
“That vehicle is not a toy,” Montes said. “That vehicle is really a 5,000-pound bullet. With any teen, they have to be reminded of that daily.”
More than 1,000 people died nationwide each summer during the past five years in crashes involving teen drivers, according to AAA.
Statewide summer-specific fatality numbers weren’t immediately available, but Montes said year-round crashes involving teens has been steadily increasing.
The number of teen drivers and passengers injured in crashes each year has also been increasing, according to FHP. In Orange County, that number rose from 2,215 in 2011 to more than 2,700 in 2014 – the most recent year available.
Similar statistics for other Florida counties were not immediately available.
Danielle Branciforte, director of Florida’s Students Against Destructive Decisions, said parents and guardians play a key role in changing that trend.
Teens learn safe-driving techniques from watching the adults around them, she said, and they’re tasked with leading by example.
“They’re the ones who have to act like role models,” Branciforte said.
Having a safe-driving contract that limits the number of passengers and cellphone use could help cut down on dangerous situations, she said.
John Pecchio, spokesman for AAA in Tampa, said a contract is something the auto group also recommends, as it “sets realistic expectations and sets boundaries for teenagers before they get behind the wheel.”
Despite having high crash ratings, teens should realize that they aren’t necessarily bad drivers, Montes said. They have less experience, though, and need to remember that they aren’t invincible.
“If people really could see what we see,” Montes said, “they would see you can’t take it back after it happens. They have to realize that too many teens have died.”