All new drivers can make wrong decisions behind the wheel; however, teenagers are the most at jeopardy. They bring to the road a distinctive mix of inexperience, distraction, peer pressure, and a tendency to underestimate risk. Anyone who has a teenage driver knows how important it is to keep them safe.
According to the CDC, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers, accounting for more than one in three deaths. Young drivers, in the age group 16-19, have one of the highest fatality rates of all drivers. Motor vehicle related injuries are by far the leading public health problem among teenagers today. In 2005, 4,544 teenagers ages 16 to 19 died from motor vehicle accidents. That equates to more than 10 deaths every day. About 400,000 motor vehicle occupants in this age group sustained injuries that required treatment in an emergency room, according to the National Safety Council BRI.
Teenagers at especially high risk for motor vehicle accidents are males age 16-19, those driving with other teenage passengers, and newly licensed teenagers. There are a variety of reasons for these staggering statistics, but the major contributing factors follow. Teenage drivers are more likely to speed and follow too closely. Males, in particular, exhibit this risky behavior. Teenagers’ crashes and violations are more likely to involve speeding than those of older drivers, and teenagers are more likely than drivers of other ages to be in single-vehicle fatal crashes. Newly licensed, they are not as capable of recognizing dangerous situations. Teenagers have the lowest seat belt use rate of all drivers, and this rate becomes worse when there are other teenagers in the car. Passengers may influence risk-taking behaviors of young and inexperienced drivers and teenage drivers may overestimate their driving ability. Alcohol and other drug use may be more likely to impact attention and decision-making when one or more passengers are present. In 2005, among fatally injured teenage vehicle drivers, 24 percent had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 g/dl or higher.
Learning to drive and regulate behavior takes time and practice. Most people learn to drive when they are young, immature, and their brains are not fully developed. Driver education programs play a role in preparing teenagers to drive, but should not be viewed as the complete answer. Inexperienced drivers need multiple opportunities to improve through gradual exposure to increasingly challenging driving tasks. In essence, teenagers become safer drivers with more driving experience.
There are proven methods to helping teenagers become safer drivers. Research from the National Safety Council suggests that the most comprehensive graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38% in fatal crashes among 16-year-old drivers. Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems are designed to delay full licensure while allowing teens to get their initial driving experience under low-risk conditions.