I have spent the last two weeks focusing on the fallout of the February 2020, 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety held in Stockholm, Sweden under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and World Health Organisation(WHO). The theme, of the Conference was “Achieving Global Goals 2030”. It called for a new global target to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50 percent by 2030. Specifically, the 2nd World Youth Assembly, a pre-event at the Conference has been my center piece because of the Youth bold proclamation that “Enough is enough!”.
Last week I looked at the road traffic crash situation in the United Kingdom and will today conclude with a look at the fact sheet of road traffic deaths in the United States of America. As I write today, I am aware that COVID-19 is yet to abate as the global deaths occasioned by this pandemic as at 23 April,2020 stood at 183,000 deaths from over 2.6million cases with the United States topping the death cases. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control(NCDC) reports that death has risen to 28 out of 873cases.
This reminder is to drive home my point last week that COVID-19 pandemic is indeed a scary killer that calls for individual and collective responsibility to end the rising cases. Like I said earlier, while concerted efforts are on to find a vaccine, we must not lose sight of the place of another killer-road traffic crashes, which I hope will receive the same measure of support from us after we finally conquer the virus.
Before I look at the US crash record, COVID-19 deaths in the US stands a 45,150 from 826,184 cases. In the same United States, road crashes remain the single greatest annual cause of death. The fact sheet for 2017, shows that 2,364 teens, aged 16-19 were killed while about 300,000 sustained various degrees of injuries through road traffic crashes. What this fact sheet translates to is that six teens aged 16-19 died daily from road traffic crashes while hundreds were injured. The data reveals that in 2017, people aged 15-19 represented 6.5percent of the U.S. population. However, fatal and nonfatal traffic crash injuries, this category among represented about $13.1 billion, or almost 8percent of the total costs of road traffic crash injuries.
The fact sheet reveals further that teens stand the highest risk as the data shows that the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16-19 than among any other age group. It further revealed that with regards to miles driven, teen drivers aged 16-19years are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash although all these age grades form the nucleus of our focus.
The data again indicates that among these group of road users, male teens stand a higher risk for motor vehicle crashes. For instance, in 2017, the road traffic crash death rate for male drivers aged 16-19years was over two times higher than the death rate for female drivers of the same age. The risk level, the data also reveals, increases when teens are driving with teen passengers because of the absence of adult supervision.
Another revelation by the fact sheet available from the US is that crash risk is also high among newly licensed teens especially during the first month of licensure as contained in data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey. It indicates the crash rate per mile driven is 1.5 times higher for 16-year-olds than it is for 18-19 year-olds.
So what are the risk factors among these teen drivers? Several factors are adduced as responsible for the high risk among these group with inexperience topping the list. Teens, the data notes are more likely than older and experienced drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or even recognize them. In addition, unlike adults, teens tend to make critical error decisions that could lead to a crash
I have written severally on excessive speeding and the need to drive responsibly. Teens in the United States and in other climes including Nigeria tend to see excessive speeding as a yardstick for measuring good and brave driving. As a result, teens are therefore more likely than older drivers to speed excessively and even fail to observe the rules of defensive driving techniques. Among male drivers aged 15-20 who were involved in fatal crashes in 2017, 31percent were speeding at the time of the crash.
Let us look at seat belt usage which in our clime is a major concern especially with regards to rear seat passengers’ compliance. In the, US seat belt usage is lowest among teens and young adults compared to other age groups. The 2017 data reveals that only 58.8 percent of high school students complied with seat belt usage when in a vehicle as passengers. This perhaps explains while in 2017, among young drivers aged 15-20 who died in road traffic crashes, about half were unrestrained at the time of the crash when restraint data was known.
Another factor is alcohol which has over time remained a major area of my focus. Alcohol, we must remember, increases the risk of a crash for any road user. For teens, it increases the risk of crashes compared to older drivers. In the 2017 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 16.5percent of high school students were found to have ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol within the previous month. Among students who drove, 5.5percent drove when they had been drinking alcohol during the 30 days before the survey.
Meanwhile, the US, unlike Nigeria frowns at drinking under the age of 21 which is made illegal. However, like Nigeria, drinking and driving is also illegal. Yet, in 2017, 15percent of drivers aged 16-20 who were involved in fatal road traffic crashes had a BAC of .08% or higher. This level is illegal for even adults aged 21 and above in all states, except Utah, which has a BAC limit of .05).
In the same 2017, 58percent of drivers aged 15-20 who were killed in road traffic crashes after drinking and driving were not wearing a seat belt. Among male drivers aged 15-20 who were involved in fatal crashes in 2017, 31percent were speeding at the time of the crash and 20percent had been drinking.
The last factor is night driving and weekend driving. If you are one of my regular readers, you must have read over and over my focus also on the dangers of night driving. Although the US boast of better road infrastructure, effective post-crash response and available night driving facilities, night driving still remains risky. The fact sheet in 2017 reveals that 40percent of road traffic crash deaths among teen drivers and passengers aged 13-19 occurred between 9 pm and 6 am, and 51percent occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
I have navigated through factors such as inexperience driving, driving with teens passengers, night time as well as weekend driving, speed and non -seat belt usage and some of the killer factors that increases the risk ad fatalities. The antidote for reversing this trend among teens and getting them active rests on the shoulders of parents as role models who must lead by examples. This is because teens are excellent copycats, therefore parents must lead by examples with respect to seat belt usage and other risk factors.
As stated earlier the fact sheet used earlier shows that at least 46 percent of teen drivers and passengers who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2017 were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Meanwhile research shows that seat belt usages reduce severity of crash-related injuries and deaths by about half. This is why the enforcement of seat belt not just for drivers and front seat passengers should be heightened including rear seat passengers.
I am still hoping to focus on seat belt compliance here in Enugu state especially in commercial buses where you would rarely see a driver and front seat passenger comply in the name that enforcement only affects front seat. Enforcement no doubt is the missing link to improve seat belt usage. Also, drinking impaired especially driving under the influence is one of my many worries which requires introducing and enforcing minimum legal drinking age laws and zero blood-alcohol tolerance laws for drivers under age 21 which would help prevent drinking and driving among young drivers.