What is the leading cause of adolescent deaths worldwide?

It’s not HIV, violence, suicide, or malaria, although those are all well-represented in the top ten list. Globally, the leading cause of adolescent deaths is “road traffic accidents”. And lest you think our paved roads and antilock brakes exempt us from this, car accidents are also the leading cause of adolescent deaths in the U.S.

Our bodies were not made to travel at sixty miles an hour in a metal box. I’m not saying we shouldn’t drive- I wouldn’t relish the 20-mile walk to work! However, driving is a dangerous activity, especially when someone is inexperienced, impulsive, impaired, or distracted. Teen drivers are more likely than adults to be any or all of these.

  • According to the CDC, 10% of teens rarely or never wear a seatbelt.
  • Teens who drive with friends in the car are more likely to speed and tailgate.
  • As new drivers, teens are more likely to underestimate road hazards.
  • 10% of teens surveyed over a one month period had driven after drinking alcohol, and almost 30% had ridden with someone who had been drinking.
  • About 50% of adolescents “sometimes” text while driving

In Washington State, “graduated driver’s licensing” limits the driving privileges of newly licensed teens. They are not allowed to drive at night, use a cell phone or text, or drive peers until they are 17 or 18 years old. Graduated driver’s licensing has been shown to reduce the risk of crashes in young and/ or inexperienced drivers.

However, parents and guardians also need to be involved in helping their teens stay safe. If we want adolescents to drive safely, we need to drive safely ourselves. Model safe driving behaviors; if you forget your seat belt, text while driving, or drive while impaired, your adolescent will mimic these behaviors.

Parents also need to have a serious talk with their teenage children about buckling up 100% of the time, putting the cell phone away while driving (like in the trunk), and never ever drinking/ taking drugs and driving, or getting in a car with an impaired driver. (See “The Free Phone Call“)

Of course, some accidents are unpreventable. But it’s important that your kid knows you take traffic safety very seriously, and that disobeying your driving rules- or the law- is not an option. Lower their risk of road traffic accidents, and you might just be saving their life.