Donna White

The month of May signals the beginning of prom time. Prom is the most exciting part of the school year for many students. It is also a time when students are looking forward to graduation, summer jobs, and fun. Teens will have a lot on their minds, and driving safely may not be at the top of the list. But the stakes are high because traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. In fact, getting into a car, pickup truck, or SUV is the most dangerous thing that high school students do, mainly because many of them fail to buckle up. If their vehicle happens to be a pickup truck, they are at particular risk because pickup trucks roll over twice as often as passenger cars.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher for 16 to 19 year olds than any other age group. Among teens fatally injured in car crashes, more than half were not wearing their safety belts. Clearly, the most important thing to be wearing on prom night or any other time you are in the vehicle is your seat belt.

Drinking and driving is also a serious problem among teens. In 2005, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 23 percent of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher. And among teen drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes after drinking and driving, 74 percent were unrestrained. A survey conducted by the CDC revealed that over the course of a month, approximately 30 percent of teens had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. Another study showed that half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight; 54 percent occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

During May, law enforcement officers across the state will be extra vigilant in enforcing safety belt usage laws, using the Click It or Ticket and Buckle Up In Your Truck campaigns. No law enforcement officer wants to be the one to arrive at the scene of a crash to see the life of a teen ruined when tragedy could have been prevented so easily.

Parent Prom Tips

On prom night, demand that alcohol not be allowed. Make sure the vehicle your teen will be driving is in good working condition. Limit the number of passengers your teen will be allowed to transport. Insist that everyone in the vehicle wear seat belts at all times. Donít allow driving after midnight. Make alternative arrangements (chauffeur, car pool with other parents, taxis) if necessary. If renting a limo, parents and passengers should sign a contract allowing the driver to phone parents if alcohol is detected. Insist that only registered passengers be allowed transportation. Be sure your teen provides contact phone numbers where he or she can be reached.

Source: Partners for Safe Teen Driving, Virginia; Bev Kellner and Myrna Hill, Passenger Safety Education - Texas Cooperative Extension.