America’s roads may not be the stuff of Mad Max-inspired nightmares but they still represent a real and present danger for student drivers. While 15 to 19-year-olds make up only 7% of the population they are responsible for over 11% of the cost of road-based injuries. Every single day 6 people in this category die on the roads of America. While it is important to know how to fit in at college and how to be successful, it is also important to return to basics and be reminded of the dangers of the road and driving in general.
The scale of the issue
There has been a 6% increase in the number of fatalities on the roads recently. 2017 saw the number of people dying due to road traffic accidents top 40,000. These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. With car safety features causing complacency among drivers the continually high level of deaths shows that the number of accidents and the speed of them are increasing all the time. To quote figures is meaningless. Tens of thousands of collisions can become background noise and 6 deaths a day mean nothing… until it happens to someone you know. 16 to 19-year-olds are three times more likely than those over 20 to be involved in a fatal crash. The scale of the problem is huge and only by being properly aware will it be tackled.
Why college students are more at risk
The Center for Disease Control lists a number of reasons by drivers, passengers, and pedestrians of college age are more at risk. Younger people are more likely to underestimate the danger of situations as they have less experience to draw upon. Your college years are supposed to be a time where you can make mistakes and learn from them, unfortunately driving is not an area where mistakes can be made safely. Unfortunately, machismo also plays a major role in the spike in deaths seen; having male passengers in the car increases the incidence of leaving a shorter gap between the car and the car in front. Male teenagers also drive faster and are more likely to drink alcohol and drive. An incredible 39% of teenagers don’t wear a seat belt when they are with someone other than their parents. These factors all compound with one another to produce an incredibly dangerous subgroup of drivers. Feeding in peer pressure, college social activities and, for some, their first taste of freedom from their parents, and it is clear why there are so many deaths on the roads from college-aged drivers.
What needs to be done
College students represent a new generation of drivers; a generation who can choose to define their own approach to the road. Where could responsible drivers look for inspiration? The United Kingdom has a few cultural differences that could be adopted. Drink driving is considered to be a very serious offense in the UK and it is one that brings with it a stigma almost to the level of a sex crime. U.S. students could demand changes in their urban areas, in the same way that parent groups have in the UK. Local campaigns and homemade signs by children (imploring drivers to slow down so that the children playing won’t be killed) have led to speed limits being reduced to 20mph in built up areas with speed bumps put in place to enforce this.
While driving without a seat-belt doesn’t engender the same negative feelings as drunk driving in Britain, repeated campaigns have removed any cool image from it and made it routine. To raise awareness, college pressure groups in the U.S. could start their own campaigns. It is worth taking heed of this differences because 124 people per million die in vehicular crashes in the country compared to only 40 per million in major European countries like the UK. Experts agree that the three major factors in the US’s road deaths are the variabilities in the law, enforcement and cultural stigma attached to driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding in urban areas, and use of seat-belts.
Other people at risk
There are no reliable, comparable statistics for fatalities among pedestrians. It is difficult to estimate how many people are walking, how often they walk, where they walk and how long they walk each time. We have data of this type for vehicle use which allows us to draw conclusions on safety for them, but sadly not for pedestrians. We do know that 70% of pedestrians killed in road traffic accidents are male and that nearly 75% of these deaths happen in urban areas. The figures for cyclists are very similar with 88% of those being killed being male and 71% of the deaths happening in urban areas. 34% of the pedestrians killed in road traffic accidents had blood alcohol levels that would have made it illegal for them to drive in most states.
Solving the issue
America leads the world in a great many things and sadly it is also head and shoulders above most developed countries for deaths of college-aged citizens in road traffic accidents. It has to be noted that there is evidence to suggest that the American figures are skewed by the fact most U.S. citizens drive more frequently and further than others. This does, in part, explain the dramatic differences in the figures but unfortunately, it isn’t the whole story. We also need to ask ourselves if we want to accept the figures, regardless of whether or not we can explain them. If the new wave of drivers entering our roads want to truly make a change for the better then they need to stop drinking at all when driving, always wear their seat-belts and slow down in urban areas.