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Graduating seniors and teens: risky driving behaviors can turn tragic

Memorial Day to Labor Day marks the summer vacation season, but it’s also a high risk time for teen drivers. Graduating high school means independence and the beginning of many important choices in a teen’s life. It’s a milestone that’s life-changing for them. The excitement of summer fun and keeping connected with friends can influence decisions, especially while they are driving.

Teens often feel invincible and that nothing bad will happen to them. We know that all too often this isn’t true. Risky behaviors such as alcohol use, not using seat belts, and texting while driving are common this time of year as graduating seniors celebrate. The increased use of technology as a way for teens to socialize often doesn’t stop when they get behind the wheel. With graduation parties and the start of summer vacation, teens are more likely to be on the road. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day has been labeled the “100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). Teens and their parents must be aware of the dangers they face on the road every day.

From 2005 to 2009, there were 119 fatalities involving 15-17 year olds on Washington roads. There were 151 fatalities in the 18-19 year old range during the same five year period. That’s 270 teens involved in fatal crashes — equal to nine classrooms of 30 students. Contributing factors in fatal crashes are often speeding, impairment by alcohol and/or other drugs, or distracted driving.

The 2010 Healthy Youth Survey shows 12 percent of high school seniors in Washington reported drinking and driving — that’s one in eight seniors. Almost 20 percent of seniors surveyed report drinking three or more days in the past month. Parents are advised to lock up alcohol and prescription drugs in their homes so they’re not easily accessible to teens.

Parents should also talk with their teens and let them know who to call if they need a ride home, help, or advice. Knowing that they have support and someone to listen will give them options.

The Department of Health website (doh.wa.gov/home.aspx) is your source for a healthy dose of information. Also, find us on Facebook andfollow us on Twitter.

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