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.
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.
There are numerous factors that contribute to the high number of accidents involving adolescent drivers.
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.
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.
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.
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.