AAA: Fatal teen car crashes up in Virginia despite lighter pandemic traffic

Traffic is lighter, there are fewer car accidents and students are studying at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, yet teen-involved fatal crashes are up in Virginia in 2020.

According to AAA, 55 people have died in crashes involving teen drivers in the commonwealth as of mid-October, compared to an annual average of 51 people who died in teen- and rookie driver-related crashes in Virginia during the same time frame between 2015 and 2019.

“Year after year, a wealth of crash data reveals that teens are a vulnerable driver group with a higher probability of being involved in crashes. Unfortunately, this year is not the exception to the rule in Virginia, even though 2020 has been upended by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said John B. Townsend II with AAA Mid-Atlantic in a news release Friday.

“This is unfolding even as teens are presumably driving less due to the fact that high school buildings and campuses — the hubs of teenager daily life and routines — have been closed since springtime across the region as a result of the pandemic,” he added.

The uptick in car fatalities is also happening even though teen drivers in Virginia have been involved in far fewer crashes this year.

There were 9,971 teen-involved crashes in the state as of mid-October. In contrast, there was an annual average of 14,445 crashes involving teen drivers over the same time frame from 2015 to 2019. (Virginia defines teen drivers as being between the ages of 15 and 19.)

This trend mirrors what’s happening with drivers of all ages in Virginia: fewer cars on the road, fewer crashes but more deaths.

“Fewer vehicles on the road during the COVID-19 crisis have contributed to a 45% decrease in all crashes,” Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, said in a June release. “But it is of great concern to see that the number of fatalities involving both speed and unrestrained travelers has increased by 78% during this time period compared to 2019. We are urging all motorists to drive the posted speed limit and wear seat belts.”

Oct. 18 to 24 is National Teen Driver Safety Week, and AAA is urging parents to talk to their teens early and often about common dangers behind the wheel, such as speeding and texting.

“For God’s sake and for your teen’s sake, remind your teen drivers that the greatest dangers that they face on the road are: alcohol, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding, and number of passengers,” Townsend said.

“Motor vehicles crashes are the leading cause of death for teens between 15 and 18 years old in the United States ahead of disease, injuries and violence,” he added. “Parents can be the biggest influencers on the choices a teen makes behind the wheel. That’s why it’s so critical to talk with them. But don’t nag.

AAA also recommends that parents themselves set a good example on the road, establish family rules for teen drivers and teach them how to navigate different weather conditions.

The group did not provide data for Maryland, which has not released its 2020 statistics yet, or D.C., which does not break down fatalities by driver age. But it did note that, so far in 2020, at least 16 teens have been killed in collisions across Maryland, D.C. and Virginia, and at least three other teens were killed after being hit by cars across the region. A plurality of those were in Virginia.

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Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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