It’s far more dangerous to be a teen driver today. Research shows that driver risk is highest at the age of sixteen. The crash rate per mile driven for teens between 16 and 17 is four times that of drivers 20 and older; the fatal crash rate per mile is four times as high.
If you are a teen driver or the parent of one, this is what you need to know about teen driver safety before you get behind the wheel in 2021.
Key teen driving facts
- Teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 have the highest risk of motor vehicle crashes. (CDC)
- In 2018, approximately 2,500 teens died in motor vehicle accidents; about 297,000 more incurred nonfatal injuries. (NHTSA)
- It cost approximately $12 billion in medical costs and lost work wages resulting from motor vehicle injuries involving adolescents between ages 12-19 in 2018. (CDC)
What parents need to know about teen driving safety
As a parent, there are many things you can do to support your teen driver. More training and additional parental oversight can help prevent crashes by improving skills and experience.
Causes behind teen driver crashes
There are a number of reasons why teen drivers have more accidents than adults. Teenagers have less experience and education when it comes to the road and often do not engage in defensive driving behaviors that can prove life-saving.
Teens make three main critical errors behind the wheel: they speed, are easily distracted and fail to scan around them. Together, these factors account for 75% of all serious teen crashes.
Other factors for teen crashes include:
- Immaturity. Teen drivers lack the maturity of most adult drivers. Without it, they are often unable to grasp the grave consequences of their actions and are more likely to speed and engage in reckless driving behaviors.
- Drowsy driving. Teens may not as easily identify signs of fatigue behind the wheel as older, more experienced drivers. With college students subject to long commutes to and from home, drowsy driving can impact teens far more than the average driver.
- Impaired driving. Another common factor in teen car crashes is alcohol. Drivers ages 16-20 with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of 0.05% to 0.079% are 12 times more likely to be killed in single-vehicle crashes than teenage drivers who do not drink.
- Inexperience. The fatal crash rate for teens between 16-19 years old is four times higher at night than it is during the day. This rate is also almost three times higher than that of adults ages 30-59.
- Distracted driving. Over half of all teen passenger deaths occur in distracted driving crashes with a teen driver. While the presence of passengers helps adults avoid car accidents, studies show that teen drivers with passengers are 30% more likely to be involved in a car crash.
Parents are key
Parents can help their teens avoid many of these risks with proper parental guidance and a few extra tips like these.
- Night driving: Spend time together driving at night so you can offer your teen tips and help them grow accustomed to the road at night.
- Restrictions: Enforce restrictions that help keep your teen safe, such as limiting the hours for solo driving or limiting the number of passengers.
- In-vehicle monitoring: In-vehicle monitoring lets you check in on the vehicle at any time to ensure there are no unsafe activities taking place. It can also monitor your teen’s driving and send you reports to gauge their safety behind the wheel. Some cars even come equipped with parental controls.
Seat belts and teen drivers
Seat belts remain one of the most effective life-saving tools in the car, so be sure to remind your teen to use them continuously. Studies show that 40% of teens fail to wear a seat belt when riding as a passenger, creating a habit that can repeat itself when those same teens find themselves behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts can cut your risk of death and serious injury by half.
Safety tips for teen drivers
There are also some things that teen drivers can do to empower themselves for safer driving.
- Choose a safer vehicle. The IIHS shows that some vehicles are much safer than others, with most teens driving older-model vehicles that lack newer safety features. Instead, choose a larger vehicle that provides more protection and a newer model year that includes some of the latest safety technologies.
- Avoid passengers. Unless necessary, teens should skip the passengers and drive solo so they can focus on the road and surroundings. Some states have driving restrictions that prohibit new teen drivers from carrying other young adults as passengers.
- Don’t drink and drive. Impaired driving can significantly increase the risk of a fatal crash and cost thousands of dollars in damages. Parents of teens should talk with their teens about safe alternatives to driving impaired and have a plan in place.
- Make seat belt use mandatory. Buckling up can reduce the risk of severe or fatal injury by half. Get yourself and your teens in the habit of using seat belts every time you are in the car until it becomes second nature.
- Make sure your teen gets plenty of rest. The National Safety Council reports that drowsy driving is responsible for 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities each year. Be sure your teen gets plenty of rest before getting behind the wheel.
- Discourage cell phone use.Cell phones are an easy distraction that can cost lives if you are not careful. Make sure your teen knows never to use their phone when driving, or look into installing restrictions on their phone to prevent use while driving.
- Teach teens about their vehicle. Before they start the car, take a moment to familiarize your teen with all of the vital controls and features and ensure they are comfortable using them. Teach them to adjust the seat and mirrors, and make sure they know where turn signals, windshield wipers and hazard lights are located, so they don’t have to fumble for them in a hurry.
Create a driving contract with your teen
A parent-teen driving agreement is one tool that has proven especially helpful for families with teen drivers. This contract ensures that both caregiver and teen are on the same page and share the same expectations and understandings regarding the teen’s driving privileges. It allows an opportunity to discuss the risks of driving and tips on what to do in an emergency. Your agreement can also include specific rules and restrictions, such as limited nighttime driving, that you can change over time based on your teen driver’s growth and experience.
Teen driving courses
There are many kinds of defensive driving courses and teen driver programs that teens can use to expand their knowledge as a driver.
- State-approved programs: State programs can include both classroom and behind-the-wheel learning that can help teens further develop their skills in a real-world environment.
- Online programs: Online classes or tutorials are an easy way for teens to grow their knowledge from the comfort of their own homes, with online interactive instruction available from a variety of providers.
- Ongoing programs: Consistent programs that offer ongoing support can serve as a great resource to help your teen learn good habits through workshops, classes and conferences.
Some communities may also offer local teen driver programs designed to inform and educate teens on a group basis.
Graduated driver licensing
Graduated driver licensing is a popular program that has proven successful in many states. It allows teens the opportunity to obtain a partial license for driving under the supervision of a licensed driver.
All U.S. states use graduated driver licensing in some form. Most states enforce some form of the following:
- Minimum permit age of 16
- Minimum intermediate license age of 17
- 8 p.m. night driving restriction
- No teen passengers
- Minimum 70 required hours of supervised practice driving
Graduated licensing is designed to reduce the number of inexperienced teen drivers on the road.
Parents can help by spending time with their children behind the wheel, sharing their experience and allowing their teen drivers to become more comfortable driving.