By Kyle Roby, Partner
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. As a whole, the majority of crashes that involve teen driving are due to lack of experience and poor decision making. For example, with so many rear-end car accidents occurring, it stands to reason that teen drivers may have been distracted when this happened or had a delayed reaction time due to lack of experience. Moreover, teens may also have a heightened sense of invulnerability due to their age. The following statistics from the NHTSA and CDC illustrate these points:
- In 2017, 2,364 teens in the United States aged 16-19 were killed, and about 300,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. That means six teens aged 16-19 died every day due to motor vehicle crashes, and hundreds more were injured.
- In 2017, young people aged 15-19 represented 6.5% of the U.S. population. However, motor vehicle injuries, both fatal and nonfatal, among young people in this age group represented about $13.1 billion of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.
- In 2017, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers aged 16-19 was over two times higher than the death rate for female drivers of the same age.
- Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure. Data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey indicate that the crash rate per mile driven is 1.5 times higher for 16-year-olds than it is for 18-19 year-olds.
What can we do as parents to help and lower these statistics? Recognizing risk factors and addressing them with your teen will help substantially reduce these statistics.
- Inexperienced Drivers: Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate or not be able to recognize dangerous situations. Teens are also more likely than adults to make critical decision errors that lead to serious crashes. Even before your teen has their permit, talk to them about situations while driving. Ask them questions about things they would do when encountering odd or dangerous situations. Be cognizant of how you drive and practice what you preach to them as young drivers. Ensure they complete graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems and are comfortable on the road before they get their license.
- Speeding/Distracted Driving: Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next). Do NOT be afraid to monitor them. Apps such as Safe Driver and Hum by Verizon are apps to help monitor your new driver’s speed and other functions. Other apps such as AT&T Drive Mode silences text message notifications when the car is moving and automatically replies to texts while the app is turned on. It also notifies parents when the app has been disabled.
- Seat Belt Use: Compared with other age groups, teens and young adults often have the lowest seat belt use rates. In 2017, only 58.8% of high school students always wore seat belts when riding as passengers. Among young drivers aged 15-20 who died in car crashes in 2017, almost half were unrestrained at the time of the crash.
- Alcohol Use: Any amount of alcohol increases the risk of crashes among teens as compared with older drivers. In 2017, 58% of drivers aged 15-20 who were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving drinking and driving were not wearing a seat belt (based on known restraint use). Among male drivers aged 15-20 who were involved in fatal crashes in 2017, 31% were speeding at the time of the crash and 20% had been drinking.
Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers’ lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, heightens their risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems. GDL systems provide longer practice periods, limit driving under high-risk conditions for newly licensed drivers, and require greater participation from parents as their teens learn to drive. Research suggests that more comprehensive GDL systems are associated with 26% to 41% reductions in fatal crashes and 16% to 22% reductions in overall crashes among 16-year-old drivers.
If your teen is involved in a wreck and is one of these statistics, it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. If your or another party’s insurance company approaches you and asks you to sign paperwork, do not do so without consulting with an attorney. If you need help or have any questions, please contact me, attorney Kyle Roby, at (270) 781-6500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.