CDC: Fatal car crash risk highest among young drivers

The top three causes of teen death in the U.S. are accidents, homicides, and suicides. Each of these problems is linked to substance abuse. Make sure your teen knows about the dangers of driving under the influence - and pay attention to his/her whereabouts. istockphoto

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(CBS News) Young drivers are the age group most likely to die in a motor vehicle crash in the United States, according to a new report.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its July 19 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that there were 34,485 motor vehicle deaths among U.S. residents, with young people ages 15 to 24 accounting for 22 percent of those fatalities.

For the study, CDC researchers examined fatal crashes that occurred in 2009 at 50 of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. They found in the 50 most populous areas in the country, the rate of motor vehicle deaths was about 8.2 people per 100,000 residents, lower than the national rate of 11.1 deaths per 100,000 Americans.

Fatal crashes were more likely to occur in the southern United States, the researchers found. Cities including Orlando, Fla., Memphis, Tenn. and Miami were among cities with high motor vehicle death rates. The CDC said urban sprawl may be contributing to those findings. However the agency noted that since only 50 metropolitan areas were reviewed, the rates may not indicate such areas have the highest motor vehicle death rates in the country.

When it came to young drivers, crash death rates among ages 15-24 were 10.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

"This is pretty consistent with what we know about young people on the road," study co-author Laurie Beck of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told HealthPop.

While the research did not look at causes of motor vehicle accidents, Beck said possible reasons for those rates include inexperience and young adults being more likely to engage in higher-risk driving conditions, including driving at night or with multiple people in the car.

What can be done to curb crash death rates in young drivers?

Beck said graduated driver licensing policies are effective at reducing car crash death risks. These programs initially limit a teen's independent driving, such as requiring them to have a permit and drive with an adult, before progressing - as the teen gains more skills - to a restricted license, before getting a full driver's license. One study found such programs reduced car crash risk among 16-year-old drivers by nearly 16 percent.

Policies aside, Beck said parents are also a pivotal influence.

"Parents have an important role to play with teen driving in particular," said Beck. She said parents should serve as a model for appropriate driving behavior, and also recommends putting together a "parent-teen driving agreement." In that approach, parents would provide an outline on rules related to driving that is signed by both parent and teen, and as the teen gains more experience, the agreement can be revised to include more privileges.

The CDC has more on motor vehicle safety.

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