Q: This may sound bizarre, but given that we know teen drivers are often badly injured or killed the first year of driving because they haven’t had time to develop skills, wouldn’t it make sense to require them to wear some sort of head protector, like helmets, for the first year or so that they’re driving?
A: I’m going to take this as a sincere suggestion/question.
First, you are correct that new teen drivers have a high rate of accidents and injuries – the highest average annual crash and traffic violation rate of any age group in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And quite a number of those that crash wind up with head injuries. An investigation by State Farm Insurance and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that of the 55,000 teen drivers and passengers seriously injured in vehicle accidents in 2009 and 2010, nearly one-third (30 percent) suffered acute head injuries. Included in that category of “acute”: concussions, skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
Indeed, car wrecks are the leading cause of TBI-related death among teens of driving age, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
That said, I doubt we will ever see a time when young drivers are required to wear helmets when they’re behind the wheel of a car.
And in any case, helmets wouldn’t address the vast majority of serious injuries that occur – that other 70 percent which are not head injuries.
A better approach to dealing with the teen-driver problems would be to do additional work in the form of continuing education, with teens to counteract the matters that get them into so many wrecks: risky driving behaviors like speeding, tail gating and distracted driving; not wearing seatbelts; drugs and alcohol; driving with friends (the risk is nearly four times greater when a teen driver has passengers than when he or she is alone); and driving at night.
Also, several experts have found that strict graduated driving laws are the most effective in reducing fatalities and serious injuries in teens. States with the strictest such laws – limiting the number of passengers in the car during the first year, restricting night time driving, prohibiting cell phones and so on – have lower fatality rates.
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