Whether your teen is gearing up to take a driver’s ed course this school year or is already fully licensed, the prospect of them being behind the wheel can make parents feel an odd mixture of pride and anxiety. Unfortunately, your worries aren’t totally unfounded. Traffic accidents involving teen drivers are all too common.
Teen Driving Accident Statistics
Traffic fatalities among older teens is more than 4x higher than younger teens.
In 2019, a total of 586 10- to 15-year-olds lost their lives in traffic accidents. Among the 16- to 20-year-old age group, the number of traffic fatalities jumped to 2,667, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
It’s no coincidence that the rate of traffic deaths among older teens more than quadruples that of younger teens. Teens in many states start earning their driver’s licenses at 16 or 17 years old.
Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of death among all teens (ages 13 to 19), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the leading cause of death among 15- to 18-year-olds specifically, the NHTSA reported.
Even when teen car accident victims survive the crash, their lives may never be the same. Considering that 258,000 teenagers—more than 700 per day—sustained non-fatal injuries in crashes that sent them to the emergency room in 2019 alone, it’s hard to overstate the impact of non-fatal accident injuries on young adults in America.
What Causes Teen Driving Accidents?
There are numerous factors that contribute to the high number of accidents involving adolescent drivers.
- Drinking and driving
Teen drivers and Inexperience on the Road
While experience alone doesn’t necessarily make someone a good driver, inexperience can make it harder for new drivers to know what to do in common driving situations. Even if teen drivers know the rules of the road, they may not know how to apply them in a given situation. Responding to traffic patterns and cues in a safe way hasn’t become instinctual to them yet.
Distraction and Teen Driving Accidents
Distracted driving is a major problem among motorists of all age groups, but teens may be particularly prone to this dangerous behavior. A survey of high school students reported that 39 percent of participants had sent a text or email while driving at least one time in the past 30 days, according to the CDC.
Historically, although 98 percent of drivers (not exclusive to teens) agreed that texting while driving is dangerous, 75 percent of motorists admitted to texting while driving anyway, CBS News reported.
Teenagers, Drinking, and Driving
Teens can’t legally drink in the United States, but many teenagers experiment with alcohol anyway—and, worse, they often get behind the wheel while under the influence. Nearly one-quarter of 15- to 20-year-old drivers killed in car accidents in 2018 had been drinking, according to the CDC.
Although there is a legal blood alcohol concentration threshold that applies to adults of drinking age, it’s illegal for a driver under age 21 to have any alcohol in their system. Alcohol use can impair your ability to drive safely and raise your likelihood of being in an accident, even if your BAC doesn’t exceed the limit for what constitutes legal drunkenness.
The Role of Speeding in Teen Crashes
Teens aren’t just more likely to speed than older drivers. They’re also more likely to keep a shorter distance between vehicles, the CDC reported. This is a dangerous combination, because the faster a car is going, the more space it requires to stop.
Speeding is a factor in a significant proportion of fatal accidents, particularly among teenage drivers. Among 15- to 20-year-old drivers, the CDC reported that 30 percent of males and 18 percent of females involved in fatal accidents had been speeding.
The point of sharing these statistics isn’t to alarm parents needlessly but instead to help parents equip their teens with the knowledge that decreases their odds of being in a serious accident.
Steps Parents Can Take to Protect Teen Drivers
- Discuss with your teen the increased danger of nighttime driving and the factors, like alcohol use and poor visibility, that contribute to it. Statistically, teen drivers and passengers are significantly more likely to have a crash that leads to fatal injuries during the hours between 9 pm and 6 am, according to the CDC. If your state has a graduated license program that restricts driving during certain hours (usually overnight), insist on being a stickler for following the law.
- Talk to your teens about the risks of distracted driving and how to reduce the impulse to look at a cell phone while driving. Strategies may include enabling driving mode on the phone or investing in mobile apps or upgraded car equipment that allows for hands-free calling and read-aloud messaging. Urge your teen driver to put the phone out of reach, where they won’t be tempted to look at it—and make sure they see you taking the same precautions.
- Talk to your teens about drinking and driving, and consider coming up with strategies to avoid ever being behind the wheel while under the influence. One strategy—which may not be right for every family—is for parents to assure teens that if they ever do make the mistake of experimenting with alcohol, the parent will pick them up and drive them home. Whatever you decide, make sure teens know that drinking and driving is an even more serious mistake than underage drinking, because it puts their own life and others’ lives directly at risk.
- Stress the importance of seat belts. If an accident does occur, having a seat belt on could be the difference between life and death.
- Model safe driving behaviors when you’re in the car with your teen or tween. Talking through the decisions you make behind the wheel and the cues you pay attention to, such as traffic patterns, can help prepare teens to make better driving decisions themselves.