Head injuries are the most common injuries in car crashes related to teen drivers, according to a new report from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm.
Among the more than 55,000 teen drivers and their passengers who were seriously injured each year in 2009 and 2010, 30 percent suffered head injuries, including concussion, skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries, according to the report, "Miles to Go: Monitoring Progress in Teen Driver Safety."
"Since full recovery from serious head injuries is often not achievable, there can be a significant lifelong impact from these injuries on teens and their families," lead author Dr. Dennis R. Durbin said in a press release. "The brain is the organ that is least able to heal, so prevention is the best medicine."
Durbin is co-scientific director for the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Although teen driver-related deaths in traffic accidents have declined, crashes remain the leading cause of death for teens and kill almost five times as many 15- to 19-year-olds as cancer or poisoning.
In 2010, 1,305 teen drivers died in car crashes, a 46 percent decline from 2005. Deaths among their passengers fell 41 percent -- to 1,022 in 2010, down from 1,777 in 2005.
Fatality rates varied widely among states -- ranging from a low of 3.9 deaths per 100,000 teens in Massachusetts to a high of 29.1 per 100,000 teens in Montana in 2009 and 2010. The average annual fatality rate for all 50 states was 9.5 deaths per 100,000 teens.
Researchers say the differences are due in part to the varying strength of state graduated driver's licensing laws. All five states that have maintained rates of fewer than 10 crash-related deaths per 100,000 teens since 2005 to 2006 have comprehensive graduated driver's licensing laws. Those states are Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.
A comprehensive graduated driver's licensing law includes at least 50 hours of adult-supervised practice under varied conditions; limits teen passengers for the first year of independent driving; restricts unsupervised nighttime driving; requires seat belt use for the driver and all passengers; and prohibits cellphone use.
Researchers recommend states with higher-than-average teen crash fatality rates close gaps in their licensing policies and use programs aimed at increasing seat belt use; reducing distractions; and teaching key driving skills, such as speed control and hazard detection.