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Speed can be deadly

Temperatures have gotten warm, the days will be getting longer for about one more week and there is a real sense that residents of the Tri-State Area just can’t wait to get back out and enjoy activities and being with one another again.

It also means there likely will be an increase in traffic on our roads and highways, and that comes with a simple warning — speed can be deadly.

A reminder of that came in January when the Governors Highway Safety Association issued a report titled Teens and Speeding: Breaking the Deadly Cycle. Produced with the assistance of the Ford Motor Co. Fund, the report is right in line with the association’s mission of providing leadership and advocacy for the states to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices.

The report offers some sobering information. It shows that between 2015 and 2019, 43 percent of teen driver and passenger fatalities were related to speeding. That’s 4,390 teenagers out of a total of 11,419 who died in traffic accidents during that period, according to numbers compiled by the National Highway Traffic Administration.

When you break those numbers down, our region does not fare very well. Ohio stood at sixth in total teen deaths for the period at 408, while Pennsylvania was ninth at 344. West Virginia came in 37th at 89. Texas and California stood at first and second, with 1,212 deaths and 979 deaths, respectively.

Look at the number of those deaths that were related to speed, and you’ll see that Pennsylvania was third with 234, Ohio ninth at 145 and West Virginia 34th at 42. Texas, with 534, topped the list while California, with 453, was second.

On a percentage basis, that means 68 percent of Pennsylvania’s teen driver and passenger deaths were related to speed, compared with 47 percent in West Virginia and 36 percent in Ohio.

Those are some significant numbers. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. They’re even more telling when you compare them with driver and passenger deaths for people older than 20 — which works out to 30 percent.

So, the numbers show, age makes a difference, with the percentage of fatal crashes related to speed dropping to 25 percent for those between the ages of 30 and 64 and to 16 percent for those 65 and older.

Gender also plays a role — male drivers between 16 and 19 were involved in 36 percent of fatal crashes, while the number dropped to 28 percent for females.

That 36 percent for males holds in the 20-29 range, while females drop to 26 percent. The numbers drop even more for those between the ages of 30 and 64, to 26 percent for males and 22 percent for females. They nearly level out in the 65-and-older range — 17 percent for males and 15 percent for females.

The youngest drivers, the study shows, have the highest level of speeding-related fatal crashes that involve departure from the road — 71 percent for those 16 and 17, 68 percent for those 18 and 65 percent for those who are 19. That number drops to 52 percent for those 50 and older.

It’s the same with speeding-related crashes that involve a rollover — the number is 41 percent for 16-year-olds, drops to 33 percent for 19-year-olds and falls to 26 percent for those 50 and older.

Fifty-one percent of fatal crashes occur after dark for those between the age of 16 and 19, and 43 percent of 16-year-old drivers who were killed were not wearing seatbelts, a number that increases to 47 percent for 19-year-olds.

And, 26 percent of speeding-related fatal teen driver crashes involved vehicles with three or more teen passengers.

Speeding, the study says, is learned behavior that is picked up by riding in vehicles with adults — 68 percent of drivers, NHTSA says, exceed the speed limits on limited-access highways.

In fact, the report adds, “the United States has a culture of speeding in which many drivers view speed limits as minimums rather than the maximums based on ideal conditions.”

The report says there are many ways to combat these trends and lower the numbers — they include greater parental involvement, driver’s licenses, increased training and the use of technology — either built into today’s vehicles or available through smart phone apps.

And, while those numbers might sound a bit depressing, the hope is they can lead to further discussion and, hopefully, make the roads safer for all of us in the future.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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