Teens often cannot wait to experience the freedom that comes with a driver’s license. They look forward to going where they want when they want. In many cases, they also take more chances out on the road.
Inexperienced drivers can pose a much higher overall accident risk on the road. They often lack the skills necessary to stay out of trouble or handle dangerous scenarios when they arise, and they may take chances out on the road that older drivers might prefer to avoid. Furthermore, young drivers may prove less predictable overall, making it more difficult for other drivers to avoid them.
Car accidents remain one of the top causes of death for teen’s ages 15 to 20 years old, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drivers between the ages of 16 years old and 19 years old are three times more likely to be involved in a car accident than older drivers. In 2010, car crashes killed more than seven young people per day and resulted in approximately 282,000 people injured.
Young Drivers: By the Numbers
Per mile driven, the risk of a fatal motor vehicle crash is three times higher for drivers between 16 and 19 than for drivers ages 20 or more.
Crash risk is particularly high for drivers who have only recently acquired a license. The crash rate per mile driven sits at about 1.5 times higher for 16-year-old drivers than for 18 and 19-year-old drivers, who presumably have more experience behind the wheel.
Motor vehicle crashes represent the leading cause of injury and death for young adults between 15 and 20.
Despite making up just 5.3 percent of licensed drivers, young drivers account for 7.8 percent of those involved in fatal crashes annually, according to a recent NHTSA study.
Why Young Drivers Represent a Higher Accident Risk
Young drivers face several challenges that can make the roads more dangerous.
Young drivers naturally do not have the same experience they would gain from spending years on the road. Most drivers gain their skills over the years. They spend time learning how to respond to potentially dangerous scenarios out on the road and refining their skills. Many of those skills can only come through considerable practice, and a driver who has not had a chance to develop those skills and that experience may have a more challenging time navigating dangers when they appear.
Experienced drivers may also find it easier to identify potentially hazardous road conditions. They may spot a driver who could pose an unnecessary danger earlier, or have more insight into how a driver’s behavior could impact them. They may also notice potholes, sharp turns, or slick road surfaces faster than young, inexperienced drivers who have not yet had a chance to build those skills. As a result, they can start responding earlier, substantially reducing the risk of a collision.
Due to their overall lack of experience, teen drivers may also cause more severe accidents, with more severe injuries, when they do have an accident. Teen drivers may lack the skills needed to alleviate some of the danger associated with the accident or to reduce the force of the collision.
Young drivers may drive distracted more often than older, more experienced drivers. Around 9 percent of young drivers suffered from distraction at the time of a fatal crash, compared to between 4 percent and 7 percent of older drivers involved in fatal crashes.
Young drivers often have a harder time stepping away from their devices when behind the wheel. They may text, check social media, and even email while driving to remain connected, and they may have a more challenging time ignoring the chime or buzz of a phone even when navigating through traffic. Furthermore, teen drivers may find themselves more distracted by things in the vehicle: changing music and climate controls or double-checking a GPS device to find their destination more easily, for example.
Young drivers also struggle with distraction when they have friends in the car. According to a study by AAA Foundation, a young driver’s risk of death per mile driven increases 44 percent with just one passenger under the age of 21 in the vehicle and doubles when the driver has two passengers under 21 in the vehicle. That risk quadruples with carrying three or more passengers under 21 and no older passengers.
On the other hand, teen drivers’ risk of death may decrease by 62 percent with an older passenger (35 and up) in the vehicle. Often, teen drivers struggle with the distraction posed by friends in the vehicle. They may have difficulty keeping attention on the road with conversation flowing around them. They may also engage in increased risk-taking behavior when they have others in the vehicle with them.
Teen drivers may have a greater overall likelihood of engaging in risk-taking behaviors than older drivers. Teen drivers may want to show off to their friends. Because their prefrontal cortex has not yet fully developed, teen drivers may also not have the capacity to fully understand the risks they take behind the wheel.
They may assume that, since they have engaged in those behaviors in the past, they will not face substantial additional risk if they engage in those behaviors in the future. They may also assume that the rules should apply to other people, or even have exaggerated opinions of their capability behind the wheel, which can raise the odds that they will engage in potentially risky behaviors despite knowing the challenges they may face.
Teen drivers may prove more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors when they have friends in the vehicle. They may egg each other on, or they may prove more likely to show off for friends than they would on their own.
Drinking and Drug Use
Young drivers know the risks of drinking and driving or taking drugs and driving. They cannot legally engage in any of those behaviors. Unfortunately, teen drivers continue to get behind the wheel while inebriated.
Often, teens have less judgment when determining whether they have consumed too much alcohol to get behind the wheel safely. They may feel that they can drive without a problem despite weaving, tunnel vision, or other problems that clearly stem from overconsumption.
Furthermore, teen drivers lack the skills and instincts to navigate safely behind the wheel when they have decreased judgment or impaired vision due to inebriation.
Keeping Teen Drivers Safe Behind the Wheel
Many parents have struggled with the dangers their children may face behind the wheel, especially when they first receive their driver’s license. While parents cannot remove those dangers entirely, they can take some steps to help reduce the risk their children may face behind the wheel.
Adequate Training and Instruction
Finding enough hours to prepare a teen for a license test can prove daunting. In Florida, permit holders must have at least 50 hours of experience behind the wheel, including a minimum of 10 hours of night driving, before getting a license. In some cases, however, that time behind the wheel might be inadequate to offer the training and instruction a young driver needs to navigate safely.
Even if a teen driver can pass a road test, they may not necessarily have the skills they need to handle the challenges they may face on the road. Parents can ensure that teens receive adequate instruction and plenty of road time before they get behind the wheel on their own for the first time.
Adhere to License Restrictions
Florida offers several license restrictions for young drivers. 16-year-old drivers cannot drive between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless driving to or from work, while 17-year-old license holders cannot drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless driving to and from work. More teen accidents occur after midnight than at other times of the day, often due to drowsiness or distraction. Adhering to these restrictions can help keep teens safer on the road. Parents should not allow teens to circumvent these restrictions.
Institute Passenger Restrictions
Florida law does not institute passenger restrictions on teen drivers, which means that legally, teen drivers can have as many passengers as they like in their vehicles. However, teen driver risk substantially increases with each young passenger in the vehicle. Parents may want to limit the number of passengers their teens can have in the vehicle early in their driving careers.
Monitor Teen Driving Behaviors
Today’s parents have more options than ever when monitoring their teens’ driving. Many insurance companies have their own apps that help track teen driving, including the number of miles teens put in. Other apps can help keep up with teens’ locations and give parents a better idea of their habits behind the wheel.
Parents of young teen drivers may find that carefully monitoring those apps, especially in the early months and years when a teen first holds a license, can make it easier to correct potential problems. Teens may also prove less likely to take dangerous chances when they know they have strong parental oversight.
In Florida, the parent that signs consent for a teen to receive a driver’s license also can revoke that consent. If a teen driver consistently fails to adhere to driving requirements or engages in dangerous driving behaviors, a parent may take away the child’s keys until the teen can show better decision-making behavior or better driving skills.
Discourage Cell Phone Use in the Vehicle
Several strategies can help discourage teen cell phone use in the vehicle. First, parents can install an app or use phone settings to turn off incoming messages when the vehicle reaches a certain speed. Those apps can help prevent teen distraction and keep them from noticing incoming messages until they reach their destination. Other apps can help monitor teen phone use in the vehicle, allowing parents to institute discipline when needed.
Parents can also help teens develop healthy solutions for dealing with cell phone use in the vehicle. For example, a parent might ask the teen to keep the phone in the back seat or turn it off while driving. Parents can also discourage teens from answering calls, including their calls, while driving. Consistently engaging in safer behavior can help create better overall patterns and habits that can help keep teen drivers safer on the road.
Pick up Worried Teen Drivers
Teen drivers may feel uncomfortable getting behind the wheel for various reasons. They may end up inebriated at a party and know that they cannot safely get back on the road. They may feel uncomfortable about dangerous weather conditions, especially those that come up out of nowhere.
They may feel uncomfortable driving late at night or find themselves more tired than anticipated after a long night out with friends. Teens may also feel uncomfortable getting into a car with another teen driver who shows signs of dangerous driving behavior.
Parents who want to reduce the risk of teen accidents should let their teens know that they will come to pick them up any time they need. They should remain available for their teens so they can give them a ride if the teen feels uncomfortable driving for any reason. While teens certainly need to develop their experience on the road over time, including trying out their driving skills in various circumstances, they may benefit more from knowing that they have a safety net in place.
What Can Parents Do?
Parents are so concerned with the risks of their young drivers on the road they have started taking matters into their own hands. Some parents are installing tracking technology or cameras in their vehicles in order to monitor their teenager’s driving behavior. The company, American Family Insurance offers parents the option to install a camera in the rearview mirror. The camera records and saves only when it senses a sudden movement. The video is uploaded to a secure website where the parent and child can review what happened, in order to correct bad driving habits.
Why are Young Drivers at a Greater Risk of an Accident?
There are many reasons attributed to young drivers being involved in more accidents than older drivers. Perhaps the most common reason is inexperience. Drivers learn good driving habits over time. For example, experienced drivers are more likely to spot hazardous road conditions early enough to avoid them. Inexperienced drivers are less familiar with hazardous road conditions such as snow, ice, rain, wind and areas where there are likely to be pedestrians. Driver’s license tests and driver education courses barely skim the surface of the necessary driving and motor vehicle knowledge.
Another reason attributed to high crash rates with younger drivers is distraction. Due to social, emotional, physical and cognitive development in teenagers, they are more likely to act impulsively while driving. Teenagers are more likely to participate in distracted driving than older drivers. They are also more likely to be distracted by passengers in the vehicle. Teenagers are likely to be distracted with mobile devices while driving. Not only are teenagers more likely to drive while distracted, they are also less likely to be capable of effectively dealing with distraction while driving.
Young drivers are also more prone to car accidents due to exposure. Young drivers are more likely to be driving under hazardous conditions such as after midnight. They are also more likely to be driving with several passengers in their vehicle. Approximately 80 percent of car accidents involving young drivers happen between 9 p.m. and midnight. As a result, some states have laws prohibiting young drivers from driving at night.
Contact a Lawyer After an Accident With a Teen Driver
When teen drivers get into accidents, they may have more severe accidents, with a higher risk of injury or fatality for everyone involved, than other drivers.
Whether you have a teen who recently got into an accident due to another driver’s negligence, or you find yourself injured due to the negligent actions of a teen driver who did not have the skills necessary to safely navigate challenges on the road, you may need a car accident lawyer to help you deal with the injury claim.
Contact a car accident attorney as soon after the accident as possible to learn more about your right to compensation.