The leading cause of death for teenagers is not murder, suicide or drugs. It's death by car accidents, often caused by distracted teen drivers taking their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel to yap on their cellphones or send text messages.
Starting today, Toyota will launch "TeenDrive365," the automaker's biggest campaign to date addressing teen driving safety. Toyota will run new video spots on ABC.com and Hulu.com focusing on the deadliest potential year for teen drivers: their first behind the wheel. There will be print, radio, display and online advertising, plus sponsored content on Twitter and Facebook. Everything is tied together at website teendrive365.com.
The goal: Encourage parents to talk to their teens about the "dangers from distracted driving," said Marjorie Schussel, corporate marketing director for Toyota. And to set a safe driving example for kids throughout their lives.
"The campaign is based on the insight that the first year of driving is one of the most dangerous years of a teen's life," said Mrs. Schussel. The issue is "personally relevant," she said, because her 16-year old son just got his driver's permit. "I don't know a parent who isn't concerned about the safety of our kids on the road today."
A national study conducted by Toyota with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found parents "are the No. 1 influence" on how their teens will drive in the future, said Mrs. Schussel.
"We like to say driver education begins the moment a child's car seat is turned facing forward. We as parents need to be models for our children."
More teens die in car crashes than from homicides and suicides combined, according to the National Safety Council. A teen driver's crash risk is three times that of a more-experienced driver. People using hand-held devices are four times as likely to crash as those using hands-free devices.
Hard numbers are difficult to come by because many people involved in accidents often won't admit they were talking on a cell phone or texting. But NSC estimates there have been over 900,000 car accidents so far in 2013 involving drivers who were texting or using cell phones.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said traffic fatalities rose in 2012 for the first time in six years. The NHTSA said 33,561 people died in U.S. motor vehicle crashes last year, up 3.3% from 2011. Another 2.36 million were injured vs. 2.2 million the year before. The good news? The number of people killed in crashes involving distracted drivers fell slightly to 3,328 from 3,360 in 2011.
Dubbed "5 to Drive," the NHTSA launched its own teen driving safety campaign in October that urges parents to share a five-item checklist with their kids. The five rules of driving safety are: No cellphone use or texting while driving; no extra passengers; no speeding; no alcohol; and no driving or riding without a seat beat.