Why Teens Face Increased Risks When Driving (and How They Can Stay Safe)

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Earning the right to drive at the age of 16 is an important milestone for practically any teenager, offering increased freedom as they start down the road to adulthood. However, along with increased freedom is an increased risk of a fatal car crash. 

The problem is more prevalent than many parents and teens likely realize. Recent research indicates car crashes are the most common cause of unintentional death of teens both in New York and across the United States. Interestingly, it is for this reason that insurance for young and inexperienced drivers is so expensive 

Teen Auto Accident Statistics and Trends

According to the United States Department of Transportation, teens are more likely to die in a car crash than in any other way, but that’s only the start of the story. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) found that when a teen-involved accident occurs, the most likely cause is unsafe speed. Other common reasons for an accident by a teen include general inexperience, drowsiness, distracted driving, impaired driving, and incorrect seat belt use. 

The age of the teen driver also matters. NYSDOH statistics reveal 16 drivers killed in 2014 were between the ages of 16 and 17. In 2016, the fatality rate for teens in that age range increased to 18. This tends to suggest that even a year of experience on the road is enough to help reduce the likelihood of an accident. 

In 78% of vehicle collisions with incapacitation or death involving a teen driver, they were later determined to be at fault. Unfortunately, approximately ten people each day in the US enter the hospital for injuries related to a teen-driving accident. Additionally, teen drivers themselves typically spend over five days in the hospital following a crash.    

Prevention Methods

What’s the best way to keep teens safe behind the wheel? The Department of Transportation, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all conducted extensive research into the issue. Their conclusion is that one of the most effective ways to keep kids safe is via comprehensive education about driver safety and traffic laws. 

In New York, drivers under 18, with either a junior learner’s permit or license, must adhere to all regulations set by the Graduated License Law program. It limits driving times, passenger numbers and ages, and more.

Restrictions alone don’t ensure safety. However, the Graduated License Law program frequently requires the presence of a parent or other adult in the car, making it an ideal time for discussing driver safety. 

Driver Education

“Automobiles have more advanced safety features than ever before, but all the technology in the world can’t beat a thorough understanding of the rules of the road,” said Tyson Mutrux of Mutrux Firm Injury Lawyers. “Parents need to spend lots of time in the car with their teen drivers, teaching them the correct techniques in real-world situations.”

Generally, teens respond best to positive teaching methods. Parents should strive to remain calm and supportive even when the teen driver makes stressful (and questionable) decisions. Also, setting clear goals can help teens stay focused on progress, which helps them stay motivated. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “5 to Drive” campaign sets easy-to-remember guidelines:

  • Always wear your seatbelt
  • Never use your cell phone (beginning drivers should even avoid hands-free)
  • Always follow all speed limits (and always know what they are)
  • Only allow an appropriate number of passengers in the vehicle
  • Never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Teaching young drivers is an ongoing process. Even after the teen obtains their license, parents will want to monitor their progress and reinforce the importance of safe driving techniques.  

Final Thoughts

Due to inexperience, poor decision-making skills, and other factors, teen drivers have a disproportionate risk of causing an accident that results in injury or fatality. Fortunately, effective mitigation strategies exist, such as focusing on education and an unwavering adherence to traffic laws. 

By developing safe driving habits early in life, young drivers can set themselves up for a lifetime of success behind the wheel. 

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