An accident with a tractor-trailer on I-81 in Washington County resulted in three deaths and one serious injury. The crash occurred Tuesday evening near the 34-mile marker of southbound I-81.
According to Virginia State police, a 19-year-old driving a Toyota Avalon veered off the road and hit a tractor-trailer that the driver had pulled off the road to inspect a flat tire. Trooper A.W. Addison said the Toyota driver overcorrected, which caused him to slide sideways and hit the rear-end of the tractor-trailer. The tractor-trailer driver and his passenger were walking back to the cab at the time of the crash and were not injured.
The driver and two passengers, age 19 and 25, died at the accident scene. A third passenger, age 19, was air-lifted to Bristol Regional Medical Center with serious injuries.
No parent should face the unimaginable pain of burying their child. The grief associated with losing a child is crippling. I am deeply sorry for the loss these families experienced, and I truly hope the teenager who survived this tragedy will have a full recovery.
Parents are right to be nervous to send their teens out into the world behind the wheel of a car. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teens are three times more likely to be in a fatal car crash than adult drivers. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens age 13-19. An astounding 17,000 people were injured in tow-away crashes with teen drivers in 2009. In light of these statistics, reducing teen driving accidents should be a top priority in Virginia.
Statistics show graduated license restrictions do reduce teen driving accidents, but the restrictions could be stronger. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, if you are under 18, you must complete driver’s education and have logged 45 hours of driving time before you are eligible for a license. If you are 19, you must still take driver’s education but do not have to log hours.
Many accidents are caused by teens overcorrecting after drifting out of their lane, leading them to lose control and run off the road. Learning to correct driving errors, signal, change lanes, and safely enter and exit the freeway are skills that take a lot of practice. National Safety Council experts say teenagers need at least 50 hours behind the wheel to become safe drivers with those hours spent working on crucial skills, as opposed to parallel parking.
Virginia regulators should follow the National Safety Council recommendations and increase the practice requirements to at least 50 hours with an emphasis on crucial skills. Parents must do their part, too. Most teens view getting their license as the most important step toward independence, but not all teens are ready to be that independent. Parents know their kids better than anyone else. If they aren’t sure their teen is ready for the road, they shouldn’t sign the education completion certificate. It’s hard to tell a teenager no, but it’s much harder to deal with the consequences if you don’t.