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Why Is May 20 The Worst Day For Teen Drivers?


Today, May 20th, is the deadliest day for teenaged drivers. That's according to the inch Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an insurance trade group which has looked at the numbers over the last five years. So the industry is using this week to highlight the issue.

And joining me now is Anne McCartt. She's vice president of research at IIHS. Welcome to the program, so glad you're here in the studio.

ANNE MCCARTT: Thank you.

NORRIS: How did you figure out that this specific day is the deadliest for teen drivers?

MCCARTT: Well, we took a look at the last five years of fatal crash data, and we counted up over those five years the deaths occurred on each day. And May 20th emerged as the deadliest day, both for all teen deaths and for teen driver deaths.

NORRIS: Does it have something to do with the kinds of things that happen socially around this time of the year - graduation parties, prom, that kind of thing?

MCCARTT: We don't know for sure but that certainly makes sense. The things that contribute to fatal crashes include how much people are driving; it's summer time now. But also, I think the kind of social occasions that occur at the end of a school year are a likely contributor.

NORRIS: Could you put these numbers in perspective for us? How many teens on average die on May 20th, and how does that compare with the rest of the year?

MCCARTT: Twenty-one teens die on average on May the 20th. This is about double the number of teens that would tie on a typical day.

NORRIS: And how many teens deaths do you normally see in a typical year?

MCCARTT: In 2009, about 3,500 teens died in crashes. That's down a lot since about 10 years ago.

NORRIS: Anybody who's listening to this who has a young driver or teenage driver in their home is most likely to find this conversation unsettling. What efforts can be made to make sure that teen drivers are safer drivers?

MCCARTT: We've made tremendous progress in the last 10 or 15 years in reducing teen crashes. And the primary thing that made the difference is what are called graduated licensing laws. And these...

NORRIS: Explain exactly what those are.

MCCARTT: Graduated licensing laws introduce teens into the most risky driving situations gradually as they gain experience. So a graduated licensing law would begin with a learner's permit. And then when the teen first begins to drive without the parent of the vehicle, restrictions would be placed on that driving. And the two primary restrictions are night restrictions, so teens wouldn't be able to drive after, ideally, nine or 10 PM. And the number of teen passengers would be limited. And these restrictions ideally would last until 18.

I think sometimes parents underestimate how important they are in keeping their teens safe when they're driving. And they make the big decisions. They can set rules and make it clear that texting and also talking on a phone is just not an acceptable thing to do when the teen is driving.

NORRIS: You're saying the parents sometimes are more powerful than they even know they are.

MCCARTT: I think that's right, yeah.

NORRIS: Anne McCartt is the vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Anne, thanks for coming in.

MCCARTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.