Keys to teenage driver safety…

Safety behind the wheel is a major concern for any parent who has a teen near driving age or recently licensed. This is for good reason – car accidents are the leading cause of death for kids between the ages of 14 and 18-years-old in the United States.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been working hard to find ways to address the problem, from advocating for cellphone bans like the one in California to promoting awareness weeks to encourage conversations about these issues among parents and teens. A current campaign instructs parents to discuss one of “5 to Drive” safety topics each day to help newly licensed drivers understand the dangers of being on the road and how to keep themselves and their passengers safe.

The five topics are speeding, alcohol use, seat belt use, cellphone use and texting, and extra passengers. NHTSA administrator David Strickland says that making choices in one of these five categories leads to many of the more than 2,000 teen driver deaths each year. For example, out of 2,105 teen driver deaths in 2011, 505 were found to have alcohol in their systems. Awareness of the dangers and frank discussions on how to make better choices and avoid harm could help prevent some of these fatalities.

Of course, other factors are often also at play when a teenager consumes alcohol before driving, such as a bartender who failed to check identification or another parent who was not properly supervising their home. In those cases the negligent third party may also be held responsible for the harm.

Data confirms that teenagers struggle with auto accidents

Many parents would probably like to watch over their children during every minute of the day, just to make sure that they are doing well. Sending children off to school, letting them go to their friends’ homes or even watching them go out on a date can come with gut-wrenching emotions for any parent. But for many parents, nothing is scarier than when their child gets his or her driver’s license.

Without needing to sort through the statistics or listen to experts, parents know through experience and intuition that young drivers pose a substantial safety risk to themselves and to others. Indeed, the statistics do verify that notion. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 have a higher crash rate than any other age group. Moreover, that age group also has the highest rate of traffic violations.

An investigation by the California DMV points to a number of reasons why younger drivers have such poor safety records compared to other age groups. One reason is that teenagers have not yet developed the perceptual skills to identify potential dangers on the roadways. In addition, when they do detect such threats, these younger drivers tend to underestimate the magnitude of the danger. Similarly, younger drivers often engage in more risky driving behavior because they are over-confident in their driving abilities and do not appreciate the risks that they are taking.

Another factor that contributes to crashes amongst teenage drivers is their propensity to get distracted by other people in the car. For drivers between the ages of 16 and 17, the fatality risk is 3.6 times higher when they have passengers in the car, as opposed to when they are driving alone. Furthermore, the risk of crashing increases threefold when teenagers drive after 9:00 p.m. as opposed to earlier times during the day.

While many parents may take no comfort in reading these statistics, they cannot keep their children from driving just because of the risk of an auto accident. Instead, parents may be able to use these figures to help focus their teenage children on ways to improve their driving and to avoid accidents.

The age group most likely to be in fatal crashes ISN”T TEENS.

Fair or not, teenage drivers have a bad reputation. While some suggest that it is because of inexperience and others speculate that teenage drivers may just lack the maturity to operate vehicles safely, many people in Orange County and the rest of Orange County probably have the idea that teen drivers are often involved and even cause serious accidents.

Although it is true that teen drivers can and often do cause car accidents because of distraction or risky behavior behind the wheel, they are, in fact, not the age group of drivers most likely to be involved in a fatal accident.

Since about 2010, the age group most likely to be involved in a fatal accident was those drivers between 20 and 34. Collectively, this group of drivers had over 20 drivers involved in fatal accidents per 100,000 people. While being involved in more fatal accidents than drivers over 35, teen drivers were involved at a rate of under 20 per 100,000.

Such has not always been the case. As late as about 2005, for instance, teen drivers were quite clearly the most likely to be involved in a fatal accident. The recent change is difficult to explain, although some have suggested that since fewer teens are driving in general, they are less likely to be involved in accidents. Young adults, on the other hand, are now in some sense the least experienced group of people on the road.

Source: California Department of Motor Vehicles, “Teen Driver Crash Statistics,” Accessed on Sept. 25, 2014

Source: Kansas City Star, “Campaign urges parents to emphasize safe driving with teens,” Sarah Sexton, Oct. 22, 2013.