This is an archived article that was published on in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Like many parents, Riverton resident Lois Oldham has anxiety about giving her 16-year-old son too much freedom behind the wheel.

In an effort to enforce the message that driving is a privilege and not a right - as well as a major safety issue - Oldham and her husband, Chad, said they will restrict Dustin's driving to within the Salt Lake Valley, at least for the time being.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Oldhams are doing right. And that's especially true during the summer months.

The 101-day period from Memorial Day to Labor Day is the most dangerous time for young drivers, who average 44 percent more hours behind the wheel each week during summer than during the school year. They also are more likely to drive at night - some for the first time - and with multiple passengers.

"Each month in summer, we lose the equivalent of an entire high school class on America's roads," said Traffic Safety Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge. "Young, inexperienced drivers spend more time behind the wheel in summer, often with tragic results."

Because of those statistics, various organizations have issued The Summer Safety Challenge, a nationwide public education effort to increase better driver behavior. Among other things, the program encourages parents to better supervise their teens' driving.

"We tell Dustin all the time that we trust him, that he is a good driver," said Lois Oldham. "But it's the other people on the road we worry about."

Oldham said she wants her son to be a respectful, cautious and focused driver. She tells her son that people never expect to get into a crash - "that's why they're called accidents."

Dustin lost two friends to an automobile crash last summer, and luckily he wasn't with them at the time.

"It's something that stays with him, and so I think he'll be cautious," Oldham said, though she does worry about peer influences when Dustin is behind the wheel or, for that matter, when he rides as a passenger.

And one of the leading distractions that cause teen crashes are passengers, said Mark Panos, deputy director of the Utah Highway Safety Office. "The more passengers a teen driver has, the more likely he or she is to get into a crash," he said.

According to a Johns Hopkins University study, the crash rate is four times higher when there are three or more passengers than when a teen is driving alone. Almost as many teenage passengers as drivers are killed each year, and for every teen who is killed nine are injured, according to Traffic Safety Administration.

"Driving skills aren't learned all at one time - it's a process. But the teen years are a time when people learn good driving habits," Panos said.

The latest statistics show that in Utah from 1994 to 2003 the percentage of teen drivers killed in car crashes have remained fairly steady - an estimated 2,918 fatalities over the nine-year period.

The fall months for 2003 proved to be the most dangerous for Utah teens, though summertime is when the number of crashes starts to increase. In April 2003 there were 640 teen crashes, but May 2003 showed 740 teen crashes.

Panos said summer is always a dangerous time because it entices teenagers to speed. In 2003, 26 percent of Utah teen crashes were related to speeding (in 63.2 percent, seat belts were not used).

Other leading causes of crashes include falling asleep, driving left of center, tailgating, failure to yield and ignoring hazards.

Rolayne Fairclough, spokeswoman for AAA Utah, said parental supervision is key.

"Parents should monitor their teens' driving habits, and make sure proper skills are in place before they turn them loose on the roads," she said.

It's a good idea for parents to ride with their teens on roads the teens haven't driven before, "maybe on a mountain road," Fairclough said. "Just take the time to make sure your kids are safe drivers."

On the Web

* To learn more about safe teen driving, click on the Web at


What can you do?

In an effort to reduce the number of fatalities caused by teen driving, parents are encouraged to help form their teenagers' driving habits. As part of The Summer Safety Challenge, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other organizations encourage parents to:

* Introduce driving privileges gradually.

* Take time to supervise teens' driving.

* Encourage teens to wear seat belts and obey other traffic laws.

* Limit teens from riding with inexperienced drivers; 59 percent of teenage passenger deaths in 2003 occurred in vehicles driven by another teenager.

* When possible, limit nighttime and weekend driving.

* Teach your teen to be a good passenger and avoid distracting the driver.

* Set strict ground rules for driving and revoke driving privileges if rules are broken.