What every parent should know
- Teens are the deadliest drivers on the road
- Each year approximately 5-6,000 teens die in car crashes
- An additional 300,000 are injured
- 53,000 teens injured require hospitalization
- Of the teens killed each year, approximately 2/3 are drivers and 1/3 are passengers
- Sixteen year olds are 20 times more likely to have a car accident than the general population
- Teenagers represent approximately 7% of the driving public but 14% of all fatalities
- Two thirds of teen driving accidents involve only one car
- Two thirds of teen driving accidents involve boys
- Summer is the deadliest season for teen drivers; July is the peak month for teen driving fatalities
Car crashes are not just a teenage issue
- Driving is the number one killer of all Americans age 4 – 34
- Approximately 40,000 Americans die in motor vehicle crashes each year
- Approximately 2/3 of the deaths associated with teen caused car accidents are passengers riding with the teen, people in other cars, pedestrians or cyclists
The Most Frequent Causes of Teen Driving Accidents
Inexperience – Parents and teens often see the junior/probationary license as a green light for solo driving. But too much freedom too soon can be a deadly combination when it comes to driving.
Distractions – Teens are easily districted in general. However, behind the wheel, distractions can lead to serious accidents. The most common distractions for teens behind the wheel include:
Eating and drinking
Speeding – 77% of teens admit to speeding.
Brain development – The NIH and other medical researchers have found that the region of the brain that identifies and evaluates risk and controls impulses is not fully developed until the mid 20’s. Unfortunately, risky, sensation seeking behavior can translate into deadly choices such tailgating, weaving and speeding.
The Most Dangerous Times for Teens to be on the Road
Statistics show that teens are twice as likely to crash between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. when diminished light makes driving more dangerous.
The National Transportation Safety Board has also identified the hour just before school begins, 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. and the hours immediately after school and sports activities as peak times for teen driving accidents. Reasons for high accident rates at these times include multiple passengers, rushing and fatigue.
How Passengers affect Crash Probability
Peer pressure and distraction are difficult to resist when teens drive together. That’s why the incidence of crashes increases exponentially for every teenage passenger accompanying a new teen driver. The addition of a single teen passenger doubles the chance of a teen driver having an accident, while 2 or more teenage passengers increases the likelihood of accidents almost 5 fold. In addition to increasing the likelihood of accidents, studies show that the higher the number of teens in a car, the fewer passengers wear seatbelts.
How Fatigue affects Driving
Sleep deprivation is becoming a more frequent cause of car accidents, particularly among teens. With busy schedules, high-pressure locations, academics and the desire to spend time with friends, its no wonder teens are losing sleep. Because teens are still growing, experts say they need 9-10 hours of sleep each night. Only about 30% of teens currently get that amount of sleep.
How Emotions affect Driving
The roller coaster of teenage emotions can make driving even more stressful, and deadly. Driving requires concentration, good judgment and strategic thinking; all of which are difficult when a teen is upset, but also when a teen is elated. Consider your teen’s emotional condition before handing over the car keys. Postponing a driving practice session or agreeing to be the chauffeur may be a better option.
How Medications affect Driving
No matter what age you are, legal drugs such as antihistamines and sedatives can interfere with driving skills such as concentration and reaction time. If your teen is taking these types of medications, be aware of these potential side effects when determining the best timing for behind the wheel driving practice.
Teens who take medication for ADHD can be 2-8 times more likely to have a car accident because of inattention to the driving situation. Studies have shown that the incidence of driving fatalities goes up when adolescent drivers with ADHD have not taken their medications. If your teen is taking medication for this condition, be sure he or she maintains a regular dosing schedule when practicing behind the wheel.
How to Evaluate Your Teen’s Driving Ability
Obviously, lack of accidents and speeding infractions are one way to gauge how your teen’s driving habits are developing. But other more subtle clues can be a better indication of your teen’s progress and readiness to drive alone.
Driving is a social activity. To stay safe and avoid accidents, you need to know the rules, respect other drivers and control your emotions. If your teen remains calm while behind the wheel, even when another driver makes a mistake, that’s a good indication that he or she has the maturity needed to drive responsibly. Is your teen independent or does he or she feel most comfortable in a group of friends? A teen who likes to be part of the crowd may have more difficulty making and following through with the right choices behind the wheel if there are other teens present. Think about extending the time period in which you restrict the number of passengers.
IQ does not dictate how well a teen will drive. A much more important indication of the type of driver your teen will become is how well your teen takes on and follows through with responsibilities. Does your teen complete homework and projects on time? Behind the wheel, does he or she make a full stop at intersections or does he or she roll through stops? The latter is an indication that more work and instruction are needed to ensure your teen fully understands and obeys driving rules.
When You can Consider Your Teen to be a Safe Driver
It takes months and years to master any complex psychomotor skill. That’s why experts recommend a minimum of 100 hours of adult supervised driving practice before taking the test for a junior license. That number can be broken down to 5 hours per week for 24 weeks or a half hour each day for 8 months or 1 hour each day for 4 months. However you choose to break up the driving, giving your teen as much opportunity to practice as possible is one of the most important things you can do to help your teen survive behind the wheel. If the amount of time seems too burdensome or stressful, give us a call and we will take on as much or as little behind the wheel training as you like.
Even 100 hours is just a starting point. Studies have shown that it takes 1,500 – 5,000 miles driven in all types of situations for the crash probability to drop for new drivers. That’s a lot of driving practice. But think how much time and effort your teen has devoted to his or her favorite sport or hobby over the past few years. Isn’t his or her safety behind the wheel just as, if not more important than that sport or hobby?