Summer is a Dangerous Time for Teen Drivers

With the Memorial Day weekend, we mark the beginning of summer and all the wonderful things and experiences that summer brings. This next 3-month period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is also the most dangerous for teen drivers, and is what the National Safety Council calls the “100 Deadliest Days for Teens on the Road.” In 2013, Americans drove more than 780 billion miles during these 100 days and teen driving related deaths spiked up to 997 deaths during that period. Tragically, just this past weekend, a local 17-year-old driver from Winfield, Missouri, was killed when his vehicle crossed the center line into the path of an oncoming vehicle. His two teenage passengers were taken to St. Joseph West Hospital by ambulance for treatment of their injuries.

While the reason for the spike in teen driving related deaths during the summer months is not conclusively known, what we do know is that driver inexperience combined with the increase in recreational driving and distractions caused by an increase in teen passengers during this period is clearly a factor.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for teens and the first twelve months after receiving their license is statistically the most dangerous time in their driving life – with a crash rate twice as high as for 18 and 19 year olds, and three times higher than drivers over the age of 20.

Why do teens crash? Studies have indicated that teen driving accidents are caused by a simple formula of inexperience combined with immature risk-assessment ability.  According to a study performed by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm in 2011, the three most common causes of teen accidents include:

  1. A Failure to Scan. Twenty one percent of the crashes involved a failure to scan the road for potential hazards. Older drivers look far ahead and side to side, which is a skill that takes some time to develop.
  2. Driving too fast. Twenty one percent of the teen accidents involved a faulty assessment of the vehicles ability to negotiate a curve at that speed and to account for poor road conditions. And,
  3. Distractions. Texting and other hand held device usage while driving, and distractions caused by other teens in the car, have been written about extensively on this blog.

So what can parents do? First enforce the graduated driver license requirements in your state. Limiting the number of passengers those first few years has been proven to save lives. Continue to ride with your child at least 30 minutes per week as he or she drives even AFTER he or she gets their license. Continue to help them judge road conditions, vehicle speeds and risk assessment. Talk to your child about drinking and driving and the dangers of cell phone usage. Remind them to wear seat belts and enforce driving curfews – most fatal accidents happen between 9 p.m. and midnight. Finally, develop a parent–teen driving agreement.