May 5th, 2010
04:27 PM ET

When teens die

By Trisha Henry
CNN Medical Producer

Nearly half of all deaths among teens are accidental, and the majority of those deaths are from car accidents, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report also finds male teens are more likely to die from accidental injury than females and the gap between the two genders increases as males get older. Homicide, suicide, cancer, and heart disease are among the other leading causes of death among young people, according to the report.

Accidents are the leading cause of death for all children, says Dr. Lois Kaye Lee, director of the Pediatric Injury Prevention program at Children's Hospital Boston. Car crashes cause three times more deaths than the top non-trauma causes combined, says Lee, who also is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Whether it's refusing to wear a seatbelt, using alcohol, cell phone use, or just having a friend in the car, there are a lot of things that are keeping teens from focusing on driving during a time that they are just learning to drive. "They don't realize they aren't in a safe driving situation or that they shouldn't be texting, which is a huge problem in this age group," she says.

Dr. Leigh Vinocur, an emergency room doctor and University of Maryland assistant professor, says we shouldn't be losing our teens this way. "Nowadays with vaccines, we don't see kids dying from infectious diseases," he says. "A good portion of deaths are preventable...whether they are from fast driving, drinking underage....or the feeling of invincibility that teenagers have."

The report also found differences among ethnic groups: African American teens are 37 percent more likely to die than Hispanic and non-Hispanic white teenagers and most of the time homicide is the reason. Notes Lee: “The exposure to gun violence is much higher in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, so the risk of homicide due to firearms is higher in this population because of where many of them live." She says firearms are responsible for more than 80 percent of homicide deaths in the 12-19 year old age range, and for African American teenagers, the number is 89 percent.

Experts believe many of these teen deaths are preventable and urge parents to keep an open line of communication with their teens and talk about the importance of safe driving, following the speed limit, refraining from alcohol and drug use and not getting into a car with a friend who has been drinking or using drugs. Lee also stresses the importance of outlawing cell phone use and texting while driving, something she says is a growing problem.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (105 Responses)
  1. Zeke

    It's true teenagers are lousy drivers, but these statistics are misleading.

    People in their teens are generally healthy, so OF COURSE the leading cause of death will be accidents, which in our society means car accidents.

    May 7, 2010 at 02:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mark

    Okay, just some things to think about here. First of all, i have read a lot on here about how 16 year old kids are too immature to drive. Let me tell you this...I am 25 years old, so this is not coming from some teen who just wants to chime in. Part of the reason the kids are inept drivers is because they lack experience. I dont care if you start driving at 16 or 60, if you have never done something before you will not be as able or competant at it as someone who has been doing it for 5 or 50 years. There is only one way to get experiecne and that is by experiencing. Unfortantly, that means that people are in danger and lives are at stake. I am aware of this fact.
    Second, let's say that for the sake of example we do increase the minimum driving age to 22. What are you going to say about homicide or cancer becoming the number one cause of death in teens? Did you know that teen related accidents account for only 7% of all accidents in the U.S.? Lets educate our children better, not "ground" them so that they find ways to drive illegally. Simulators wont have the same effect. Computer mock-ups of an accident won't accomplish much.

    May 7, 2010 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Ron

    kathy May 7th, 2010 00:40 ET

    "A lot of the problem is that of the Macho image many males have to show. To be blunt, males have to show that they have the balls to speed and to often race other drivers"

    Wow Kathy you tell it like it is and bluntly don't you? Unfortunately (as I am a male also) all you have said is true including the fact that males are weaker than females. The question is what( if anything) can we do about it?

    May 7, 2010 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sue

    During the 4 year period when my son was in high schools, 4 teens in his school were killed by car accident, all at their own driving faults. As a mother of a teen, I was very sad for those lost precious young lives. I would definitely support raising driving age to 18 year old, which is a legal adult age used in many laws. At age 18, teens are more mentally mature and stable; less prone to distraction; and they are also more responsible and have better self control. As a mother, I saw significant behavioral difference between age 16 and 18.

    May 7, 2010 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Lindsay C.

    If you raise the driving instead of having 16 year olds crashing because they're inexperienced you'll have 18 or 20 or 25 year olds crashing because they're inexperienced. Age doesn't kill, inexperience does.

    May 7, 2010 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. kathy

    Within the last couple of months, there has been 5 auto accidents within 50 miles of me that involved teenage drivers and passengers. There were a total of 18 teenagers in the cars and out of that 18, there were 12 males and 6 girls. Fortunately all the girls survived but none of the males did . Four of the 6 girls were smart enough to be wearing seat belts but all of the males were too macho to do so. One of the two girls that did not wear a seat belt will never walk again but as least she is still alive. We do need to teach our teenagers that they are not Superman and this goes double for the males as we can see, they are not as able to survive serious injuries as are the girls. I do think our males need to be taught that they are the weaker sex so they can learn to take care of themselves better.

    May 8, 2010 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Marmay

    I could care less about teenage kids who die in automobile accidents caused by their own drinking, texting, etc. because they are too indulged and self-centered to realize the obvious fact that operating a machine produced from about 4,000 of steel should be done so with a certain degree attention and care. What I care about is the innocent person they take with them. The irony of the teenage driver is that if they really understood the implications of a car accident, they wouldn't get in a car in the first place. The one thing teenagers hate is being controlled. But when a driver hurts, kills, or maims someone innocent, that driver is forced into a relationship with their victim whether they want it or not. Either through guilt, litigation, public scorn, loss of car insurance, parental scorn, or something else, a bad teenager driver is often brutalized by their victim. I think most teens would gladly give up drinking and texting to avoid that kind of anguish.

    May 8, 2010 at 02:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kathy

    To explain one thing in my posts, in the first one, I said 4 of the 6 girls were wearing seat belts. It was when I read the stories again, that I realized that all the girls wore seat belts and that none of the males did. The girl that will never walk again was the only girl that was driving. The other 4 drivers were males. Someone ran a stop sign and hit her on her side of the car and she broke her back.

    I do think this is because males often think they are indestructible and that they do not need to take precautions. When we look at the thousands of dead males compared to the dead women, we can see how wrong these males are.

    May 8, 2010 at 05:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. James Fell

    Studies in the U.S. have shown that lowering the drinking age to 18 increases alcohol-related crashes for 15- to 17-year-olds.
    Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA 21) laws save approximately 800-900 lives each year in reductions in traffic fatalities involving young drivers. Medical research shows that excessive drinking by youth aged 20 and younger may cause brain damage as well as reduce brain function. Early onset of drinking before age 21 increases the risk for future alcohol abuse, automobile crashes, and assaults, among other alcohol-related problems.

    June 8, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.