You may need to think again before letting your teenager drive. The leading cause of death for 15 to 20 year olds are motor vehicle crashes. In fact, teenage drivers are three times more likely to get into a car accident than other drivers over the age of 20.
How bad is the problem?
Teenage car accidents are a serious problem. It is estimated that six teens are killed a day in a motor vehicle crash. The issue is also growing. In 2017, the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that fatalities in teen car crashes were on the rise. While the assumption is that drivers over the age of 80 are more likely to get in a crash, the reality is that teenagers get in wrecks more often than even the oldest of drivers.
In the U.S. in 2017, teenagers between the ages of 16 to 19 represented 6.5 percent of the population. Over 2,300 of those teens were killed in a car accident that year and over 300,000 more were treated for injuries in emergency departments. Fatal and non-fatal vehicle crashes for this age group, which is about 8 percent of all car crashes that year, cost about $13 billion.
What are the risk factors?
Teenagers, in general, are more likely to be in a car accident than more experienced drivers. The main cause of this is driver inexperience. Other risk factors make a vehicle crash more likely for teenage drivers. These include:
- New drivers: This is especially true for drivers who just received their licenses. The first month of driving after obtaining a new license can be particularly dangerous.
- Male teenagers: In 2017, male teens were twice as likely to be in a car accident than females the same age.
- Alcohol use: This increases the risk of accidents, regardless of the driver’s age. Still, teenagers die at a high rate in vehicle crashes when alcohol is involved.
- Seatbelts: Not wearing a seatbelt makes any driver more likely to experience injuries or a fatality. However, teenagers are more likely to not use a seatbelt than more experienced drivers. In 2017, less than 60 percent of teens surveyed stated they used a seatbelt. Of all teenage car crash fatalities that year, almost half were not wearing a seatbelt.
- Teens driving with friends in the car: Having friends in the car increases the chances of an accident because they can easily make the driver distracted. The more teenagers in the car, the more likely an accident may occur.
- Cell phone use: Not only is driving new to a young teenager, but they may also be dealing with the novelty of having their first cell phone. These two in combination could be disastrous. Cell phone use is a notorious form of distracted driving that increases the chances of an accident.
There are also risk factors for teenagers depending on when they drive. For example, over 50 percent of teenage fatalities from car accidents occur on either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Also, more than 40 percent of these deaths occurred between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The conclusion is that teenagers are more likely to get into a car accident on the weekends and late at night or early morning.
Is there any good news?
Yes, a lot of motor vehicle crashes involving teenagers can be prevented. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parents are the key to making sure their teenagers drive safely and avoid car accidents. They also recommend that parents make a driving contract with their teenagers before giving over the keys. Let the teenager know what behaviors you expect and what you prohibit. Outline clear punishments if the breach the contract.
The CDC outlines eight danger zones that parents can focus on to help lower the risk of a crash. Some advice includes:
- Make sure your teenage driver has time and experience practicing driving before they are allowed to do it on their own.
- Restrict or limit certain activities like driving with friends or driving at night or on the weekends.
- Do not let them drive if they don’t wear their seatbelt.
- Teach them about distracted driving and how using a cell phone can cause a crash. If you catch them driving and texting or using their phone, take it away for a specific amount of time to ensure they cannot drive and use it.
- Make sure they know all the laws of driving. Also, make sure they know what the punishments are for breaking the law if they get stopped by a police officer.
- Even one alcoholic drink can increase the chances of a teenager being in a car crash. Make sure that they never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.