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With summer approaching, the numbers of teen drivers on the road goes way up — and so does their risk of a serious crash.
Newly licensed drivers between 16 and 17 years old are nearly three times as likely as adults to be involved in a fatal car accident, a new study finds.
That frightening statistic comes as we enter the “100 deadliest days,” the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the average number of teen driver accidents rises 15 percent compared to the rest of the year, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
The study also found that fatal teen crashes were on the rise.
“What we know about teen is that they are not only a danger to themselves, but also to other people on the road,” said Jennifer Ryan, a spokesperson for the AAA. “The vast majority of people that are injured and killed when a teen driver is behind the wheel is someone other than the teen.”
Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers from AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, analyzed crash rates per mile driven for all drivers and found that for every mile on the road teens aged 16 to 17 were:
- 3.9 times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a crash.
- 2.6 times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a fatal crash.
- 4.5 times as likely as drivers 30 to 59 to be involved in a crash.
- 3.2 times as likely as drivers 30 to 59 to be involved in a fatal crash.
Although people often assume that older drivers are more likely to have issues on the road, the report found that even 80-year-old drivers were less likely than teens to be in a fatal crash.
Not every state allows younger teens to drive alone or with only friends: 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, make drivers wait until age 18 for a full license.
Just four states gives licences at age 16; other states require drivers to wait until 16.5, 17 or 17.5.
Why are fatal accidents on the rise?
The AAA listed three factors contributing to the heightened risk:
- not wearing seat belts
Passengers are the No. 1 cause of accidents, “followed by some form of interaction with your cellphone," said Ryan.
Teens driving with their friends in the car are most at risk, said Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and head of Columbia’s Injury and Prevention Center.
“Carrying passengers, particularly peers, and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs,” are the biggest problems, Li told TODAY.
Lack of experience
“If you compare someone who starts driving at age 25, or even 40, to someone the same age who has been driving for years, you will see a higher crash risk,” said Jonathan Ehsani, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. “Overlaid on that, lack of experience is the fact that [in younger teens] judgment and decision making skills have not fully developed yet.”
The best safeguard, Ehsani said, is making sure that a teen gets a lot of practice in varied situations before getting a license — young drivers are more likely to get into crashes when they encounter a new situation.
“It’s like building a library of experience before they start driving on their own,” he said. “If their library is much richer and broader while they are learning to drive, the chances of avoiding an accident when on their own are much better.”
One safety measure: parents should set out driving rules in a contract when a teen gets a license.
“If the teen fulfills certain requirements, like being home on time and driving in a certain way, then privileges can be extended,” said Ehsani. “If the parent learns the teen hasn’t been keeping the agreement, then privileges can be restricted.”
Li offered more advice for parents:
- Minimize unsupervised driving.
- At night or on weekends offer to drive the teen or arrange for a paid ride.
- Forbid teens from driving with peers in the car or riding with a teenage driver.
- Let your teen drive the family’s newest and safest car.