As parents we all know the joy and pride of watching our children grow older and more independent. But some milestones, like taking to the road as a driver, also inspire fear and worry. Studies show that our concerns are justified. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-20. In 2016 more than 2,800 teenagers were killed in car accidents, accounting for roughly 10% of all passenger vehicle deaths.
Everyone knows that teens are at a greater risk for car accidents. We can’t just skip our teenage years, but we can be aware of the specific behaviors that increase the risk of an accident:
- Driving at night – Seventeen percent of fatal crashes involving teens occurred between 9 P.M. and midnight. Darkness and fatigue are especially dangerous for young and inexperienced drivers.
- Driving on the weekend – Fifty-three percent of fatal crashes involving teens occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. During the weekend teens are much more likely to drive long distances or mix driving with other risky behaviors.
- Not using seatbelts – A study of teens involved in fatal crashes concluded that only 42% were wearing a seatbelt. Seatbelts can save lives during even the most severe crashes, and not wearing one significantly increases the risk of death or serious injury.
- Driving with other teens – The risk of a fatal accident increases by more than 50% with each additional teenage passenger. Young drivers have more difficulty dealing with the distraction of loud, boisterous passengers.
- Texting – Texting while driving represents a serious danger to all drivers, but teens are especially affected. The average text causes the driver to take their attention off the road for more than four seconds.
Some of these behaviors, such as driving at night or on weekends, cannot be completely avoided. But teens and their parents should know about the increased risks so they can plan and drive accordingly. Very new drivers should also pay more attention to the behaviors on this list, as it may be best for them to avoid such things entirely until they have accumulated some driving experience.
Some states have begun to combat the teen driving problem with new systems of graduated licenses. These systems place a number of different restrictions on new drivers, including a curfew and limits on the number of people they can have in the car. In Virginia, teens are initially only allowed to drive with one non-family member in the car, and must be off the road by midnight. These laws help ensure that new drivers gain their crucial driving experience in a relatively safe and distraction-free environment.
Driving is a stressful milestone for parents and teens alike, but there are resources available to help ease the transition. Teen drivers will always be a cause for concern, but being informed can help parents understand and mitigate the specific risks involved.