Susan Vavala’s 15-year-old daughter, Kim, went to the movies one rainy night in 1995 with a 16-year-old friend who had just gotten his driver’s license and two other kids. They weren’t more than five minutes away from Vavala’s Wilmington, Del., home when the new driver, distracted by his friends’ conversation, lost control of the car. Kim was killed instantly in the crash.
In most states today, such a driver would not be allowed to drive with a car full of friends so soon after getting his license and would have other driving restrictions, thanks to regulations implemented over the past decade. But safe-driving advocates say more needs to be done.
They hope that safety provisions included in the transportation bill signed into law by President Obama this month will encourage states to adopt or strengthen laws intended to protect teenage drivers — and everyone who shares the road with them.
It is an effort strongly supported by Susan Vavala, who has worked in Delaware to stiffen regulations. “We knew [the driver] was a good kid. He’d been driving Kim to school every day the week before,” she said. But the combination of “inexperience, a wet road, distraction and four kids in the car” led to tragedy.
Car crashes remain the No. 1 cause of death among teenagers, killing roughly 3,000 15- to 19-year-olds in 2009. Teens’ lack of driving experience combined with their use of distracting devices such as cellphones make them the riskiest of drivers, four times more likely to crash as older drivers are, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Transportation.