Teen Driving Awareness Month arrives with the New Year, every January 1st. It is fitting that we begin the year by drawing attention to the fact that the leading cause of death for US teens is motor vehicle crashes. According to the CDC, in 2020 along, 8 teenagers aged 13-19 died in car accidents each day. That means that 2,800 teens lost their lives on the road in a single year. Raising awareness means first and foremost, talking with your teenagers about the dangers of driving, and what steps they can take to stay safe.
In most states, the minimum driving age is 16.The law assumes that most people this age are mature enough to drive without adult supervision. But there’s a problem. Teenagers are still not fully adults. They are prone to risk-taking and dangerous behavior. It’s not so easy for teens’ parents to protect them when they have the right to go off on their own on the highway. That’s why parents must open an ongoing conversation with their children about driving safety.
Some Teen Driving Facts
Teens between the ages of 16 and 19 have the highest fatal crash rate; almost three times that of drivers aged 20 and up per mile driven. Males are at greatest risk for dying in a car crash, three times the rate for female drivers in the same age range. Teens who drive with teens or young adults as passengers, increase their risk of a crash—especially when there are no adults around to supervise. Each additional teen or young adult passenger increases that risk.
The younger the driver, the greater the risk of a car crash. Experts attribute this to the lack of driver experience in newly licensed teens. A 16-year-old during the first months of having a driver’s license, has a crash rate per mile of around 1.5 times higher than for older, more experienced drivers of 18 or 19 years.
Part of the problem is that teens may underestimate the dangers they encounter. They may not even be able to recognize a potentially dangerous situation on the road. Teens are also more prone to making fatal errors in judgment.
Nighttime Teen Driving
It’s harder to drive at night. Everyone knows that. But driving at night is far riskier for teen drivers. Drivers aged 16-19 have a fatal crash rate that is around 3 times higher than that of adult drivers aged 30-59 years for each mile driven.
Seat Belts? Teen Drivers Don’t Use ‘Em
Another risk factor for crashes in teen drivers is the failure to always wear a seat belt. Of teen drivers and their passengers killed in car crashes during the year 2020, more than 56 percent were not wearing their seat belt when the crash occurred. High schoolers riding in cars driven by someone else neglected to wear a seat belt in 2019, at a rate of 43.1 percent. The annual rate of seat belt use among teens is consistently lower than that of adults.
Distracted driving accounts for many teen driving crashes. The main distraction is texting or reading and sending emails from the road. During 2019, 39 percent of teen drivers admitted to emailing or texting while driving at least once a month.
Teen Driving: Speeding and Tailgating
Teen driving dangers include the greater likelihood, compared to older drivers, of speeding and tailgating. The risk increases when there’s a teenage passenger along for the ride. As many as 35 percent of male drivers and 18 percent of female drivers (aged 15-20 years) killed in car crashes in 2020, were speeding at the time of the accident.
Teen Driving and Drinking
Teens appear to be more strongly affected by alcohol when it comes to driving. Even when their blood alcohol is within legal limits, drinking puts them at greater risk for a fatal crash than for an adult with the same blood level of alcohol. A full 29 percent of drivers age 15-20 killed in car crashes had been drinking. In 2020, 62 percent of drivers 15-20 year of age killed in car crashes, had not only been drinking, but were not wearing their seatbelts.
Reducing the Risks of Teen Driving
The Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) systems keep teen drivers safer by giving them more practice behind the wheel, getting parents involved, and limiting a teen’s ability to driver under high-risk conditions as a newly licensed driver. Such systems have been proven effective for reducing teen crash rates and fatalities. One study of GDL systems found that fatal crashes were reduced by 21 percent in 16-year-olds.
Parental Supervision and Teen Driving
There’s a lot parents can do to reduce the risks of teen driving. There are devices you can purchase to monitor your teenager’s driving. These have been shown to be effective, in part because of the teen driver’s awareness that they are being monitored. In future, smartphone apps may be found to be of similar value in monitoring teen drivers to lower their risk for dying in a fatal crash. These should be more affordable than the electronic monitoring devices currently available.
Choose a Safe Car
Buying the right car for your team can make a difference in keeping your teen driver safe. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) keeps a running list of reasonably-priced cars that meet important safety benchmarks for teens. Choosing the right car, preferably midsized or larger, can make all the difference to making sure your teenager grows to adulthood to become a productive member of society. Keeping teens safe on the road means a brighter future for them and for us.