INDIANAPOLIS — It is no secret that the teenager age group continues to be the leading age group for car crashes resulting in death.
The summer months, in particular, hold the highest rate of teen deaths via car crash. A major cause of these crashes is due to distracted driving. According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA), in 2020 alone, distracted claimed the lives of 3,142 people in the United States. NHSTA also reports that in 2019, 2,042 teen drivers were killed in crashes related to distracted driving.
Distracted driving can take many forms for everyone but especially for teens. Distracted driving can be defined as: interacting with other passengers, using a phone to call or text, looking at something inside or outside of the vehicle, singing/dancing to music, grooming/applying makeup, eating/drinking, changing the radio station, reaching for an object inside of the car, etc.
“I think there’s definitely an uptick in death cases amongst teens, unfortunately, in the summer,” said Kent Winingham, , attorney at Wilson Kehoe Winingham. “I think it’s a two-fold, really, one is, kids are out of school – they’re on the road more and they’re driving more and going to meet with others.
“Secondly it’s summer time so people are just driving more often – there’s more people out on the roads, more free time.”
Winingham told us that wrongful death cases, especially fatal teen crashes, are not determined as distracted driving until later in the investigation when evidence starts to gather. He says that nowadays, with dashboard camera footage, evidence can become apparent sooner rather than later.
A 2019 study conducted by Indiana University Public Policy Institute shows that in Marion County alone, out of 38,002 licensed drivers between the ages of 15 and 20, 6,172 were involved in a vehicle crash. That’s almost 17 crashes per day for the whole year.
Just between 2019 and 2020, ARIES reported 202 fatalities in crashes involving teens, driver or passenger.
“In modern times, especially here in Indianapolis Metro area, as the area grows, there’s more traffic….they get more active, there’s a lot more distractions,” said Johnson County coroner Mike Pruitt.
Pruitt has held the title of Johnson County coroner for about a year and a half now and has already seen a handful of fatal crashes involving teenagers.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s hard to do, it’s a necessity, but it’s even harder seeing what families go through when you have to show up at their door in the middle of the night to make that identification.
“It’s probably the hardest part of the job that I have. The less I do that, the better this job is.”
Pruitt, alongside other Indianapolis Metro emergency personnel, believe that to combat these tragedies, education must be present before teenagers first get behind the wheel. Pruitt says education needs to start at home.
“It’s starts at home with an education, setting an example. After that, it’s a matter of education whether that’s the schools educating, every kid has to do driver’s education.
“That text message, whatever it is, can wait.”
The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute has many resources on their website to learn more about fatal crashes involving teens and prevention.