In 2011, teenagers aged 14 to 18 accounted for 21 people, or seven percent, of the population in the United States. Many of these young people were learning, preparing or just beginning to drive. However, according to figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car accidents were the number one cause of deaths among this age group. Of the 2,105 teen drivers who were involved in fatal car crashes, almost half of them–45 percent–died. Moreover, of those teen drivers killed, one in five, or twenty percent, of them did not have a valid driver’s license.
The NHTSA study also revealed that speeding was a factor in 35 percent of fatal accidents involving teen drivers. In addition, 27 percent of teenagers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their systems even though all states have Zero Tolerance Laws which prohibit anyone under 21 to have any alcohol in their systems while driving. Twelve percent of teen drivers involved in a fatal accident were distracted at the time of the crash. Moreover, the study revealed that most crashes occurred between 3 and 8 p.m., and 3 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were not wearing a seatbelt. When a teen driver does not wear his or her seatbelt, the passengers in the vehicle are likely to follow the driver’s example.
The NHTSA research also pointed out that teen drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors while other teenagers are in the car with them. Such risky behaviors include speeding. The study showed that a teen is 2.5 times more likely to engage in risky behaviors when one other teenager is in the car. However, teen drivers are three times more likely to engage in such behaviors when multiple teenagers are in the vehicle.
There are, however, several steps parents can take to reduce the risk of their teenage driver from being involved in a crash. For instance, all states have Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) restrictions which gradually introduce new drivers to more challenging driving conditions. The restrictions focus on travel times, numbers and ages of passengers and risky behaviors. Most of these restrictions are lifted over time, usually in three stages. Parents can support teen drivers by reviewing these conditions with their children and imposing their own family restrictions. Studies suggest that parents who impose such restrictions reduce their teenager’s chances of being involved in an accident.
In addition to discussing GDL restrictions and imposing restrictions of their own, parents of teens can also take their children on practice driving sessions. Under parental supervision, teenage drivers can learn how to drive in inclement weather and different traffic situations. Parents can also teach teens how to moderate speed to accommodate for various conditions. The more active parents are in teaching and discussing driving with their teenagers, the less likely their children will be involved in an accident.
The NHTSA study can be accessed here.
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