Being able to legally drive is every teenager’s dream. It is an achievement that gives them a sense of independence. It is an exciting milestone, even for parents. However, it cannot be denied that driving comes with risks which make dads and moms repeatedly re-evaluate if their child is truly ready for the road. Further exacerbating their worry is the high number of fatal crashes involving teen drivers.
Motor vehicle accident is the top cause of teen deaths in the US and all over the world. According to a report from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 6 teens belonging to the 16-19 age group died every day in 2016 because of car crashes. Furthermore, male teenage drivers are more prone to accidents than female teenage drivers. In 2016, the number of deaths among male teen drivers due to road traffic accidents was twice that of females.
Why Are Car Crash Incidents High in Teens?
Studies show that lack of experience is the top reason why incidents of car crashes are high in teenage drivers. A testament to this is a report stating that teens tend to get embroiled in road traffic accidents just a few months after getting their license. Moreover, fatal motor vehicle crashes are more prevalent in teens in the 16-17 cohort (where newly licensed teens often belong to) than in the 18-19 age group.
Driving is a complex task which demands practice for one to become better at it. Despite having the know-hows and fundamental skills, newly licensed drivers have not had enough experience driving under various conditions and situations. Hence, even if they’ve been taught how to properly handle dangerous circumstances, they can easily get rattled and fail to apply what they’ve learned.
Their immaturity also contributes to the problem. Being young and adventurous, teenagers tend to engage in a lot of risky behaviors, from speeding to not wearing their seat belts. They even do distracting activities while driving like eating, texting, talking on the phone and interacting with passengers, among others.
In 2017, distracted driving accounted for 3000 deaths in the US. According to the CDC, 9 people die each day because of distracted drivers who are mostly under 20 years old. What’s more is that over 50% of severe motor vehicle accidents are due to distracted teen drivers.
Of the different kinds of distracting behaviors involving the use of mobile devices, texting is noted to be the most dangerous one. The risk of crashing goes up 23 times when teenagers are texting while driving. Why is this the case? All three types of distractions are present in this activity. There is manual distraction since the driver’s hand or hands are off the wheel and on the phone. Visual distraction is also present as the driver’s eyes are on the screen of the device and not on the road. Lastly, there is cognitive distraction – the driver’s mind is not focused on driving but is instead on crafting a message.
The unfortunate news is that a lot of teens text and drive. One research reveals that over 30% of teenagers in the US text while they are behind the wheel. In addition, in states where a learner’s permit is given at 15 or younger, over 50% of teen drivers engage in this risky behavior.
How to Keep Teen Drivers Safe
Ensuring the safety of teen drivers is an endeavor which requires the participation of various stakeholders – the government, parents, schools and youth organizations, to name a few.
Fortunately, there are government-led initiatives to minimize accidents involving teenage drivers. Currently, Washington D.C. and 47 states prohibit texting while driving. Meanwhile, using handheld devices while a person is behind the wheel is banned in Washington D.C. and 16 states.
In addition, teen drivers from all over the country now have to adhere to a strict requirement before they can get their learner’s permit or full-privilege license. For one, there is the implementation of the graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems. In all states, the program includes three stages; however, the rules and enforcement vary per location. Case in point, in California, teens intending to get their intermediate or restricted license need to complete at least 50 hours of supervised driving. Meanwhile, in Arkansas, there is no minimum number of hours required for supervised driving.
GDL systems are implemented to enable teenagers to develop their driving skills. This is done by letting them gain more driving experience but under less risky situations, i.e., limiting their nighttime driving privilege and the number of passengers they can have in the car. All in all, the main goal of the GDL systems or laws is to reduce traffic accidents involving teens. So far, this approach has been very effective with studies showing that the implementation of GDL systems has reduced car crashes involving teenage drivers by 30% on the average.
Some states have also made it mandatory for teenagers to take drivers educationclasses. In these places, it is no longer enough that parents take the lead in teaching their kids how to drive. Teenagers need to complete a DMV-approved drivers ed course to be eligible to take the licensing test. Why is there a need for this requirement? There are empirical data showing that drivers education helps prevent incidents of car crashes among teenage drivers. One study stated that it reduced traffic tickets received by teens by as much as 40%. These positive results are attributed to the fact that DMV-approved courses are designed to equip teenagers with the knowledge and skills they need to become safe drivers and not just to past their licensing exam.
Clearly, these government-led initiatives are commendable; however, they are not enough. The government alone cannot minimize accidents due to teenage drivers. Other concerned parties need to participate in this endeavor. Parents, for one, need to set a good example. After all, they are their children’s first teachers. Even before they are eligible to get their learner’s permit, teens have surely picked up some driving knowledge or techniques whenever they ride with their parents.
In addition, parents should make it their priority to find a reputable driving school for their kids. It also wouldn’t hurt if they give their teens extra driving practice time. The mandatory number of hours for hands-on training set by the DMV is 10 hours or less. This is not enough since research shows that a person needs at least 50 hours of driving to become a proficient driver.
Meanwhile, schools and youth organizations could help disseminate information on teen driver safety. They can hold lectures or workshops on how young drivers could avoid road traffic accidents. They can also provide resources teens could use to become safe and responsible drivers.