As the summer driving season gets under way, AAA Arizona is encouraging parents and teens to focus on safety during what they say is the deadliest time of year for teen drivers and their passengers.

Seven of the top 10 deadliest days for teens occur between May and August, according to the automobile association. Those days are May 20 and 23, June 10, July 4 and 9, and Aug. 8 and 14. AAA said that an average of 399 teenagers died in traffic crashes during each of these months, compared to a monthly average of 346 teen deaths during non-summer months.

“During the summer, teens tend to drive more often and with less supervision than they do during the school year,” said Brad Oltmans, vice president of insurance services for AAA Arizona. “That’s why AAA urges parents to establish a driving agreement that keeps teens off the road at night and restricts riding in cars with multiple passengers.”

A study released by AAA just this month confirmed what many have long suspected, that the risk of 16- and 17-year-old drivers being killed in a crash increases with each additional passenger under the age of 21. In fact, their risk was found to increase by an estimated 44 percent when one passenger under the age of 21 was present in the vehicle. That risk increases significantly with each additional passenger under 21 years of age.

“We know that carrying young passengers is a huge risk, but it’s also a preventable one,” said AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “These findings should send a clear message to families that parents can make their teens safer immediately by refusing to allow them to get in the car with other young people, whether they’re behind the wheel or in the passenger seat.”

Tommy Thompson, spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, said distracted driving is another major cause of collisions in the Phoenix area and around the state. He said cell phone use is the big distraction for teens.

“Teens tend to be much more text-savvy and so those are one of the concerns that we need to remind our teenage drivers is don’t text and drive,” Thompson said. “If you’re going to send a message, pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot and then send your message.”

Thompson said a vehicle traveling at 60 mph on the freeway will have gone about 90 feet in just a second.

“So think about how long it takes to look at your text message, and then try to send a message,” Thompson said. “In theory, before you typed one word you could’ve traveled the length of a football field.”

According to Thompson, another contributing factor to teen crashes is that parents tend to relax or eliminate driving restrictions during the summer months. He said it is important for parents to have a relationship with their teen driver and said that just because many kids are on summer break, that “shouldn’t mean a break from parenting.”

“We often assign responsibility to a collision, when in fact in many of our collisions there truly could be shared responsibility,” Thompson said.

Michael Mashburn is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a junior at Arizona State University.

To help keep teenage drivers safe during the summer months, AAA offers the following tips for parents:

• Eliminate trips without purpose. Teens have three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers, based on amount of miles driven, and a teen’s crash risk is highest during the first year of solo driving. Limit teens’ driving to essential trips and only with parental permission for at least the first year of driving.

• Limit passengers. Crash rates increase with each teen passenger in the vehicle. In fact, fatal crash rates for 16 to 19 year olds increase fivefold when two or more teen passengers are present versus when teens drive alone. Also, riding in a vehicle with a teen driver can be risky for teen passengers. Establish passenger limits and restrict teens from riding as a passenger with a teen driver.

• Restrict night driving. A teen driver’s chances of being involved in a deadly crash doubles at night. Many parents limit driving during the high-risk late-night hours, yet they should consider limiting evening driving as well, as more than half of nighttime crashes occur between 9 p.m. and midnight.

• Establish a parent-teen driving agreement. Written agreements help set and enforce clear rules about night driving, passengers, access to the car, and more.

• Enroll teens in summer driving school. Summer offers the perfect opportunity for teens to brush up on their driving skills.

• Be there. Make sure your teen knows that if they need help, advice or a ride, they can call you at any time. Extend this offer often and let your teen know that you are always available, and that they will not be judged or punished should they need your help.

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