Distractions like texting and driving aren't the only concerns for teens during this summer driving season. Experts warn that canceled summer jobs and activities because of COVID-19 may give them less to do and more time on the road, adding to annual concerns about teen-related crashes. Daily Herald photo graphic
Gone are this year's anticipated teenage traditions, replaced by memories of COVID-19, e-learning and stay-at-home orders.
The virus canceled mile markers from prom to final appearances in spring sports, concerts and plays. It has disrupted preparations and plans for post-high school, and it doused the pomp and circumstance of graduation. There won't be a second chance at any of those events.
However, a darker, more dreaded annual tradition lingers -- concerns over teen-related summertime crashes. In fact, safety experts believe the combination of closed schools, curtailed activities, canceled summer jobs and COVID-19 restrictions being lifted in Illinois could give teens less structure and more free time to be on the road. That's a new element in the long-standing worry.
AAA -- The Auto Club Group is sounding the alarm for parents and others that the period it calls the "100 Deadliest Days" is under way and will continue through Labor Day. Now, it's up to parents to do their part and be proactive with their young drivers.
"Parents remain the best line of defense to keep everyone safe behind the wheel," AAA spokesperson Molly Hart said in a news release. "It's never too soon to educate teens on the dangers of distracted driving, speeding and the impaired effects of alcohol and marijuana. But we can't just tell teens about the dangers. We must also refrain from engaging in risky driving behaviors and ensure we are modeling good behavior."
AAA examined a decade of fatal teen crash rates and found 282 people in Illinois and 243 people in Indiana were killed in crashes involving teen drivers during summer months between 2008 and 2018. Nationwide, the number is 8,300.
Those stats show teens continue to be "overrepresented" in crashes, and the summer months increase their risk -- for every mile driven, new teen drivers ages 16 to 17 are three times more likely to be involved in a deadly crash compared to adults, AAA said.
Yes, inexperience is a big factor, and that worsens when teens add bad decisions, such as speeding, texting, aggressive driving, drowsy driving, red-light running and not wearing a seat belt. Now, without summer jobs or sports and other activities, teens potentially will have less to do and more time to be on the road. That's a troubling mix.
AAA officials recommend parents talk to teen drivers early and often about safe driving and avoiding risky behavior behind the wheel, teach by example when driving and set family rules for young drivers.
The organization has some online resources, such as the AAA ParentCoachingGuide 2020 and TeenDriving.AAA.com, which has a variety of tools to help prepare parents and teens for the dangerous summer driving season.
Our message to teens is simple: heed the warnings and be safe.