STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Getting behind the wheel for the first time is an exciting accomplishment for teens, but it also presents a host of new dangers.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens between the ages of 15 and 18, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
In 2018, over 2,100 Americans were killed in crashes involving teen drivers, with 719 of the deaths being the teen drivers themselves.
In an effort to help buck this trend, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has announced that this week, Oct. 17 through Oct. 23, the organization will celebrate National Teen Driver Safety Week, an annual nationwide campaign to help educate teen drivers and their parents about the dangers of reckless driving behavior.
“Teen drivers are more likely than any other age group to be involved in a fatal crash due to inexperience and maturity,” said GHSA Senior Director of External Engagement Pam Shadel Fischer.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the increased risks associated with teen drivers, with speeding chief among them.
Earlier this year, the GHSA and Ford Motor Company released a new report analyzing the role that speeding plays in making motor vehicle crashes the leading cause of death for U.S. teens between the ages of 15 and 18.
From 2015 to 2019, speeding was a factor in 43% of all teen driver and passenger fatalities.
For all other age groups, speeding was a factor in just 30% of all roadway fatalities, indicating that teen driver and passenger deaths are disproportionately likely to involve a speeding motorist.
“The data tell us that teen drivers are the most likely to be tempted to speed, so the need to address this issue is more critical than ever, given traffic death trends during the pandemic,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executor director.
Teen drivers’ need for speed can be attributed to a number of factors, including lack of experience, elevated risk thresholds and feelings of invincibility.
“These factors make it all the more important for parents and driving educators to ensure that teens are well aware of the risks associated with speeding before they get behind the wheel,” said Jim Graham, fund manager for Ford Motor Company.
Teens should be taught that, while it can be exciting to put the pedal to metal on the open road, speeding drastically increases the chances of a fatality in the event of a collision.
Impaired driving is also among the most pressing concerns for teen drivers. Despite the fact that teen drivers are not of legal age to purchase alcohol, 16% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2018 had alcohol in their system, data shows.
Parents should emphasize the risks of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to their teens, constantly reminding them that such behavior is unacceptable.
Lack of seat belt usage is another major issue for teen drivers, with 45% of teen drivers killed in a crash in 2018 not wearing a seatbelt. And in those crashes involving unbuckled drivers, nine of the 10 passengers who died also failed to wear a seatbelt, according to the data.
Parents should remind their teens that seatbelts are not optional and play a pivotal role in potentially saving a life in the event of a crash.
With teenagers often glued to their cell phone, distracted driving also plays a major role in the reckless nature of teen drivers, with nearly 10% of all teen drivers involved in a fatal crash in 2018 being cited for distracted driving, data shows.
Parents should advise their kids to avoid texting and phone calls while driving, encouraging them to wait until they reach their destination to pick up the phone.
Parents may also consider limiting the number of passengers permitted in a teen’s vehicle, with data showing that a teen’s likelihood of engaging in risky driving behavior triples when there are multiple passengers in the car.
The GHSA encourages parents to regularly schedule driving practice sessions with their teens, noting that young drivers whose parents monitor their driving are less likely to engage in reckless driving behavior and be involved in a fatal crash.
Parents should also consider creating a parent-teen driving agreement, indicating the rules that teens must follow and the potential consequences for failing to abide by them.
“Parents have spent the last 19 months focused on their children’s health and safety during the [coronavirus] pandemic. That attention to safety can easily extend to driving — and the best way to do that is for parents and teens to work together to ensure young drivers build the skills necessary to keep themselves and everyone else on the road safe,” Fischer said.
FINDING THE RIGHT VEHICLE
Looking for the perfect car to keep your teen safe?
Whether you’re looking for a cheaper, used car that still affords high levels of safety, or your willing to shell out some extra cash for a new model, we’ve got you covered.
Consumer Reports recently teamed up with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to compile lists of the best new and used cars for teen drivers.