Accidents involving teen drivers are frequent themes in their parent’s nightmares – for good reason. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States.
While drivers between the ages of 15-20 account for only 5.4 percent of all drivers in the United States, this same group of teens account for more than twice that percentage of drivers involved in police-reported motor vehicle crashes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, there were 2,433 teen fatalities as a direct result of traffic accidents – that’s six teens a day. During that same year, there were 292,742 emergency department visits by teens for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes.
If you’re a parent of a teenager, how can you prevent the nightmares?
Leading Causes of Accidents Involving Teen Drivers
The CDC lists the following factors as leading causes of crashes among teen drivers:
Inexperience: Crash rates are especially high among teens within the first months of receiving their driver’s license. Studies have shown that younger drivers are more likely to underestimate hazardous situations and make poor critical decisions than any other age group of drivers.
Not wearing a seat belt: Teens have among the lowest rates of seat belt use. Only 59% report that they consistently use seat belts. This is especially dangerous when combined with other risk factors, such as drinking. In 2016, of the teen drivers killed in DUI crashes, 58 percent were not wearing a seat belt.
Driving recklessly or speeding: Male drivers are more likely to be involved in speed-related crashes. In 2016, 32 percent of male teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time. Teen drivers are also more likely to tailgate (follow the car in front of them too closely).
Distraction and peer pressure from teen passengers: Research from the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that crash fatalities increase 51 percent when an unsupervised teen driver and passengers are in the car. The more teens in the car, the higher the risk.
Other distracted driving behaviors like texting, talking on the phone, eating, applying makeup, or changing radio stations are common risk factors for accidents involving teen drivers.
Driving at night/while drowsy: Almost half of all teen fatalities from motor vehicle accidents are from crashes that occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs: In a 2017 national survey, 16.5 percent of high school students said that, within the past month, they had been a passenger in a car driven by someone who had just consumed alcohol. Of those same students with a driver’s license, 5.5% reported that they were the drivers who had been drinking. And this behavior has proved to be deadly: 15 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal car accidents in 2016 had an illegally high blood alcohol content (.08% or higher).
Reducing the Risks of Accidents Involving Teen Drivers
There are several ways to decrease the above risk factors, and many resources to help parents address them.
Graduated Driving Laws
Currently, all U.S. states and Washington, D.C. have graduated driving laws (GDL) to help teen drivers build driving skills while supervised by adults. While the requirements vary from state to state, most include longer practice time, limits on nighttime driving and driving in other high-risk conditions, and greater participation by parents or legal guardians. Most programs include:
- A learner phase, in which the driving student is a permit holder and must complete a certain number of supervised driving hours; and
- An intermediate phase, which limits unsupervised driving at night or in high risk situations, and may restrict the number of passengers while the driver is unsupervised – this phase may last until the driver is a certain age or for a specified number of months; and
- The final, full-privilege standard driver’s license.
Most states also ban cell phones or texting by new or intermediate drivers.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IHHS), these laws have substantially reduced teen accidents. Other research suggests that GDL programs have reduced overall teen crashes by 16 to 22 percent, and fatal crashes by 26 to 41 percent.
You can learn more about your state’s GDLs here. The best thing parents can do to keep their teens safe is to enforce these laws. The CDC also offers a planning guide to help your teen driver make the most of the GDL learning period.
Here are some additional ideas to reduce other risks of accidents involving teens:
- Consider a parent-teen driving agreement, and consequences (such as restricting driving privileges) for breaking the agreement. Include things like seat belt use, safe driving practices and hours, passenger restrictions, and zero tolerance for driving under the influence.
- Never drink and drive yourself – with the ease and access to services like Uber and Lyft, there is no reason or excuse to do so.
- Make sure your teens have an alternative to driving under the influence: Assure them that you would much rather have them call you, or use your Uber/Lyft account for a ride home than get in the car after drinking, or with a driver who has been drinking.
- Always wear your seat belt, and require that all passengers in your car wear them also.
- Be a safe driver, and role-model driving behavior you want your teen to use. For example, don’t use your cell phone or text while driving; maintain the speed limit and safe distances between cars.
- Limit nighttime driving and teen passengers for your teen driver.
Other Victims of Accidents Involving Teen Drivers
Of course, the teens themselves are not the only people at risk from accidents caused by teen drivers. Dangerous drivers put everyone on the road at risk.
According to AAA research, the majority of people killed in teen driver crashes are other road users: occupants of other vehicles, or pedestrians or cyclists. Between 2013 and 2017, teen drivers killed nearly 3,500 people. Fatality rates increase when teen drivers engage in risky behavior, such as driving with other teen passengers, speeding, or driving at night.
If you are a teen driver, or the parent of a teen driver, do everything you can to reduce your risk of an accident — both for yourself or your child, as well as everyone else on the road.
If you have been seriously injured—or a loved one has been killed—in an accident involving a teen driver, it’s in your best interest to retain a lawyer as soon as possible. Your law firm can conduct a full investigation, and deal with the insurance companies, so you can focus on your recovery.
TorkLaw can help.