For teen drivers, safety about more than mobile phones

AAA driving school instructor Guy Jones, left, with student driver Zach Lehman, 16, as they head out for an on-road session Tuesday, May 31, 2022. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Combined ShapeCaption
AAA driving school instructor Guy Jones, left, with student driver Zach Lehman, 16, as they head out for an on-road session Tuesday, May 31, 2022. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Traffic fatalities soared last year, peaking in summertime.

BUTLER COUNTY ― The period from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend represents the most dangerous time of the year for teen drivers. As summer vacation begins, newer drivers are behind the wheel more often, with experts urging them to keep their eyes on the road and not their phones or other distractions.

“This is when kids are getting out of school,” AAA driving instructor Pat Brown said. “They’re a little more active, they’re having more time in the car, which puts them a little more at risk to be involved in a crash that could be fatal or serious.”

Hamilton police Sgt. Rich Burkhardt said distracted driving is a concern of law enforcement with new teenage drivers.

“Although they may have better reaction time, it takes longer to stop,” he said. “Cell phones are a concern for everyone because of the distraction.”

Fairfield Twp. police Sgt. Brandon McCroskey said in addition to driver inattention due to distracted driving, because of things like cell phones, some teen drivers don’t have “a full understanding of the consequences of irresponsible, dangerous driving, like excessive speed or not wearing a seatbelt.”

“It’s nothing new as far as younger drivers tend not to pay attention to these things,” he said.

Teen traffic crashes in Ohio caused 33 fatalities during 2021′s “100 Deadliest Days” period, Brown said, referring to the summer period bracketed by the two holiday weekends. AAA said there have been more fatal crashes involving teens in the summer than in the rest of the year.

Accidents like these often occur due to distracted driving, which can be anything that makes it more difficult for the driver to focus on the road.

“People tend to have crashes more when there’s other people in the car,” Brown said. “We talk about distracted driving, and everybody goes right away to the cell phones. But actually, passengers are more dangerous than cell phones, because passengers distract just as easily.”

Brown said cell phones are still a major concern, though, especially for teenagers.

“The phone is a major distraction,” he said. “We have gotten such a knack to be checking our phones immediately because we want to know what’s going on. They tend to have to respond to whoever is talking to them or texting them or whatever.”

ExploreOhio traffic crash fatalities hit 20-year high

Last year was the deadliest year on Ohio roadways in nearly two decades, even with traffic levels still below pre-pandemic levels. The total number of Ohio traffic deaths increased from 1,230 in 2020 to 1,360 in 2021, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol data. That’s the most fatalities the state has seen since 2002, when 1,417 people died in crashes statewide.

When a teenager is involved in an accident or traffic stop, a few common causes are often to blame, said Ohio State Highway Patrol Information Officer Brice Nihiser.

Nihiser’s advice to new drivers to help them stay safe was simple:

“Before you even start the car, buckle your seatbelt, put that phone somewhere where you’re not going to be distracted by it,” Nihiser said. “If you have a passenger, let them control music so that you as the driver can focus on driving.”

McCroskey said a lot of continuing driver education starts at home.

“You want parents to really instill the importance of safe driving, paying attention to driving, watching your speed, wearing your seatbelt, and the fundamental safety points of driving,” he said. “A lot of that comes from home, as well as school and outside influences.”

Brown said AAA encourages parents to talk with their teen drivers, not just about the 100 days of summer, but throughout the year about distracted driving, friends in the car, speed limits, and driving after dark.

“About 90% of all crashes are driver error. That’s definitely true for new teen drivers, because they’re still getting used to driving,” he said.

According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, from 2017-2021 in Ohio, there were 64,108 crashes that involved distracted driving.

House Bill 283, jointly sponsored by a pair of Republicans, Rep. Cindy Abrams, of Cincinnati, and Brian Lampton of Beavercreek, that would make it a primary offense to hold or physically support an electronic wireless communication device with any part of one’s body.

“Distracted driving crashes continue to aggressively trend upward, but go largely underreported due to the difficulty in proving a driver is engaged in distracted driving activity,” said Abrams, a former Cincinnati police officer.


AAA driving safety tips

  • Slow down – Speeding is the No. 1 factor for the increase in roadway fatalities.
  • Buckle up – The rate of ejections and unrestrained occupant deaths has risen sharply.
  • Don’t drive impaired – Alcohol is involved in about 20% of all fatal summer crashes.
  • Drive defensively – You can’t control others; you can increase the time you have to react.
  • Limit distractions – Distracted driving, likely underreported, accounts for at least 8% of fatal crashes.
  • Watch for pedestrians and cyclists – Pedestrian deaths rose 15% from 2020 to 2021.