trafficA 22-year-old man killed in a freeway crash near Detroit yesterday morning was found with a cell phone in his hand – suggesting that he may have been engaged in one of the five riskiest young driver behaviors at the time of the accident.

Police say they don’t know why Joe Ryan Contreras drove a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic into the back of a semi truck shortly before 12:05 a.m. “There were no skid marks observed at the scene, and alcohol was not a factor,” according a statement.

After the vehicles were separated, a cell phone was found in Contreras’ hand.

Setting clear rules

That accident remains under investigation, but U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is hoping to prevent others from happening with “5 to Drive,” a campaign that urges parents and guardians to set clear rules of the road for young drivers.

The initiative by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in conjunction with National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 19 – 25) is designed to reduce the staggering number of motor vehicle crashes involving young drivers. Nationally, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-20 year olds. In 2012, 4,283 young drivers aged 15-20 were involved in fatal crashes, and 1,875 of those drivers (44 percent) died in the crash.

"Despite a declining trend, young drivers remain the largest percentage of crashes and deaths on our roads and we must all do more to change that," said Secretary Foxx. "It's vitally important that anyone responsible for a teenager, including teens themselves, join our '5 to Drive' campaign."

Dangerous choices

The campaign is aimed at raising awareness of the dangerous choices teens make due to a lack of maturity, a penchant for taking risks, and their overall inexperience behind the wheel:

  1. No cell phone use or texting while driving – Ten percent of the people killed in teen driving crashes in 2012 died when the teen driver was distracted at the time of the crash;
  2. No extra passengers – NHTSA data show that a teenage driver is 2.5 times more likely to engage in risky behaviors when driving with one teenage passenger and three times more likely with multiple teenager passengers;
  3. No speeding – In 2012, speeding was a factor in almost half (48%) of the crashes that killed 15- to 20-year-old drivers;
  4. No alcohol – The minimum legal drinking age in every state is 21. However, among 15-to-20 year old drivers killed in crashes in 2012, 28% of them had been drinking; and
  5. No driving or riding without a seat belt – In 2012, more than half (60 percent) of all 15- to 20-year-old occupants of passenger vehicles killed in crashes were unrestrained.

"All too often, teens drivers make choices behind the wheel that can result in devastating and lifelong consequences," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. "However, these risky driving behaviors – and the devastation they cause - are entirely preventable. The '5 To Drive' program offers parents and young drivers simple steps they can take to establish the rules of the road and prevent heartbreaking tragedies from occurring."

Being good role models

NHTSA also reminds parents and guardians to serve as good role models by practicing safe driving behaviors during every trip. Young drivers often pattern the behavior of their parents. In addition, parents should learn their state's graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws before their teen drivers get behind the wheel. GDL programs exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. These laws allow inexperienced drivers to gain experience by gradually introducing driving tasks and privileges through controlled exposure to high-risk situations.

Information on NHTSA's "5 to Drive" campaign