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Teen Driver: The Statistics and How to Improve the Odds

teen driving stats

Do you have teen drivers? We’re not quite there yet but it’s coming up fast. Our oldest is almost 14 and 1/2. I am told I need to enroll him in driver’s education soon so he can get the class done by the time he’s 15 and ready for a permit. Yikes! But these teen driver statistics are scary.

teen driver stats

If you have a teen driver, what have you done to help keep you child safe? Did you have them go through a driver education class? Did you drive with them a lot while they had a permit? Do you talk to them about not texting while driving? Do you only allow them to drive certain times or with certain friends or no friends at all? And do you buckle up YOUR seat belt?

Yes, your seat belt. Because no matter what they say or how much it seems they don’t listen to you anyway, they still pick up habits from you. Why is that so important? Because nearly half of all teen driver fatalities in 2017 were not wearing a seat belt. HALF!

How big of a problem is it? The scary teen driver statistics.

More teens are dying from motor vehicle crashes than any other cause of death.

Car crashes killed 2,526 teens aged 15 to 19 in 2017 (the most recent year for which we currently have statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). That means 6 teens die every day from a car crash. And about 300,000 teens suffered injuries during a crash that required emergency medical treatment in 2017. The death rate is two times higher for male teens compared to female teen drivers.

Teens are 10 times as likely to be in a fatal car crash that adults. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, a 16-year-old is 20 times more likely to be killed in a crash than an adult.

One in 5 teens will have a crash in their first year of driving. Most of those will be within 6 months of getting their license.

What are the most common problems to overcome to have better teen driver statistics? Studies have pointed to several contributing factors such as older and smaller vehicles, texting and distractions from peers, underage drinking, and lack of skill and experience. But one thing is for sure, teens are not buckling up like they should. Remember nearly half of those fatalities were not wearing a seat belt.

1. Seat belt use, or lack thereof

Teens and young adults have the lowest seat belt use rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control only 58.8% of high school students always wore seat belts when riding as passengers.  Fatalities are split almost equally between teen drivers (56 percent) and passengers (44 percent).

Safe Kids Worldwide recently surveyed 1,000 teens in 2014. One in four teens said they don’t use a seat belt on every ride.

The survey asked why some teens don’t buckle up. The top reasons they gave for not buckling up were:

  • they forgot or it was not a habit (34 percent)
  • they were not going far (16 percent)
  • the seat belt was not comfortable (11 percent)
  • asked why other teens don’t buckle up, one in three teens (33 percent) said that going to a party was a reason.

“No one starts their day anticipating that they’re going to get into a car crash. But we all know that it only takes one time to be riding in a vehicle without buckling up for a life to be changed forever,” said Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. “This survey illustrates that we must be even more vigilant in our efforts to reach teens with messages that will resonate so they understand the importance of buckling up every ride, every time.”

But get this. According to Allstate, teen drivers with involved parents are twice as likely to wear their seat belt. So stay involved.

2. Distracted driving

Teens who don’t always use seat belts are also more likely to report that they text while driving than those who say they wear a seat belt every time. Where do they learn this behavior? Often times, their parents — remember I said you are still influencing them (whether they admit it or not).

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Teens are easily distracted and there are a lot of possible distractions while driving. In 2017, 229 teens died in distraction-affected crashes.

Whether it’s the radio, eating, their phone, a friend driving by or a friend in the car, teens are more prone to distracted driving. Having friends in the car increases the risk of crashes for teen drivers. That risk goes up with each teen passenger.

The survey reports 39% of teens said they have ridden with a teen driver who was texting. 56% of teens said they talk on the phone while driving. Yes, this counts as distracted driving even if it’s hands free. According to GuardChild, talking on the phone can double the changes of a crash as it slows the teens reaction time down.

And 95% said they think other teens have ridden with drivers who were texting. This is an interesting correlation. More than half of teens said they have seen a parent talking on the phone while driving, and 28 percent have been riding in a car with a parent who was texting.

As for their fellow teen passengers, 49% of them said they had felt concerned for their own safety when driving with their friend (but only 44% of them will speak up). And get this 31% also admit to feeling unsafe with a parent driving.

Remember to be a good example. Put those phones away while driving.

3. Speeding and lack of skill/experience

A majority of serious teen crashes (75%) are because of critical errors. Three errors account for nearly half of these crashes: lack of scanning needed to detect and respond to hazards, speeding (especially for road conditions) and being distracted (we already discussed distracted driving).

More than 1/3 of teen fatal crashes are speed related. Teens are more likely than adults to speed. They also don’t allow for an appropriate amount of distance between them and the vehicle in front of them. This increases the likelihood of rear-end someone.

Speeding is not always intentional. Teens don’t have the skill yet to just tell them to slow down. When practicing you need to tell them when and how release the accelerator and ease on the brake.

Three driving maneuvers seem to be an issue for teens, as they are the main cause of many crashes:

  • Left-hand turns
  • Rear-end events
  • Running off the road

To increase their skill in these maneuvers, teens need more experience with an instructor or parent.

4. Underage drinking increases poor teen driver statistics

After speeding, alcohol is most common cause of car crash fatalities for teens. We all know it’s illegal. And we all know teens still drink illegally. Unfortunately, they also drink and drive. A quarter of all fatal crashes that took the lives of teenagers involve alcohol.

In 2017, 15% of drivers aged 16 to 20 who were involved in a crash had a blood alcohol level of .08% or higher. This is an illegal limit for adults in all states, exempt Utah which has a BAC limit of .05%.

The CDC says in a 2017 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 16.5% of high school students rode in a car within the previous month with a driver who drank alcohol. And 5.5% of those who drove admitted driving after drinking in the previous month.

Remember how nearly half of teens who died in crashes did not wear their seat belt. 58% of those who die in a crash after drinking and driving didn’t wear their seat belt.

Even though it’s illegal and you expect your child not to drink, start early telling them not to drink and drive or get in a car with someone who was drinking.

teen driving stats

What can you do to help keep your teen driver safe?

Remember those questions way back up at the top? Those are the things parents can do. But so you don’t have to scroll all the way back up there past the teen driver statistics, here is the summary:

  • Make sure everyone in the car buckles up on every ride, every time.
  • Be a role model in all your driving habits, that means no more texting and driving. It’s illegal in many states anyway. Save your phone calls for later, even if you are hands free, you are giving part of your attention to the conversation which is taking attention away from the road.
  • Talk to teens and kids about ways to speak up if a driver of any age isn’t driving safely.

Most importantly, is driver’s education. Teens who didn’t go through a driver education course are responsible for 91% of teen driver crashes.

According to Journal of Adolescent Health, student drivers steadily improved during the last three months of class so that by the time they got their license teens were as safe as the adults in their rates of crashing or risky driving. Of course, their risk shot up once they were driving independently. Good news is female drivers’ risk rate went back down. Bad news is male drivers continued to drive less safely.

You can go beyond driver education with additional defensive driving skills courses for your teen. And brush up on your road rules for when you are coaching from the passenger seat. And practice, practice, practice. According to Safe Kids 75% of teens indicated that the time they spent practicing with their parents was the most helpful when learning to drive.

Also, all 50 states have created a graduated driver licensing system that limits high-risk driving situations for new drivers. This approach can reduce your teen’s risk by as much as 50%. Familiarize yourself with the driving restrictions on teen licenses in your state.

Have you always been a model of buckling up and not texting? Share your comments below.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2020 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in November 2014. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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