A high school in northern California is among the latest to implement a ban on lunchtime driving after a recent crash involved two students. Mendocino High School is prohibiting driving during school lunch breaks until at least Thanksgiving. The school is not alone in taking this type of action. Similar bans have been instituted across the country in response to the high number of teen car accidents.
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. According to The Press Democrat, the Mendocino crash occurred on Oct. 21, when a 17-year-old boy lost control of the car and crashed into a trailer attached to a parked car. Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ed O’Brien says the boy was speeding and lost control of the vehicle.
O’Brien said the force of the collision “peeled the engine compartment right off,” according The Press Democrat. Crushed metal entered the passenger compartment and was inches away from the boy’s face.
The principal of the school, Tobin Hahn, said he was already worried about the safety of students. Businesses and nearby residents had complained of student driving. Other accidents have occurred during the school day as well as outside of school hours.
Students at the high school have 40 minutes for lunch. O’Brien says many students race to get fast-food. There have been complaints of students speeding on a race track-type loop, known as Heeser Driver, from people walking nearby on their lunch break.
Principal Hahn says he met with parents to discuss the problem and plans to hold more meetings to address public safety. “I’m hoping not only to create safer behavior but also build respect between the school and the community,” he said, according to The Press Democrat. He says parents have been extremely supportive of the lunchtime ban.
Teen motor vehicle accidents have raised concerns nationwide. On Long Island, student crashes were such an issue that in 2008 a state assemblyman proposed legislation that would implement a statewide ban on lunchtime driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,270 teens between the ages of 16 and 19 died in motor vehicle crashes in 2014; 221,313 were treated in emergency departments for injuries from automobile accidents.
On the whole, traffic deaths appear to be increasing. According to a report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic deaths have increased 10.4 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period last year. In the first half of 2015, 16,100 died in traffic accidents; this figure increased to 17,775 in 2016. The report noted that Americans drove more miles, but this is not enough to account for the rise in traffic fatalities. For seven consecutive quarters since the final months of 2014, the rate of traffic deaths has been higher compared to previous years.
The agency said it was too early to point to a cause, stating, “It is too soon to attribute contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways,”
The NHTSA announced its “Road to Zero” coalition, which seeks to eliminate traffic deaths, including deaths on sidewalks and bicycle paths, by 2046.