Teen Driving Over the Past Decade: What’s Changed
February 28th, 2020 by Fix Auto USA
It’s the day that every teenager waits for – getting their driver’s license. Unfortunately, teens and driving can be risky. In fact, auto accidents are the #1 cause of death and disability for teenagers in the U.S. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 1,830 teenage drivers between 15 to 20 years old died in vehicle crashes in 2017 (most recent teen driving statistics available).
This disturbing teen driving statistic represents a 4% decline from the previous year (2017 vs. 2016) when 1,916 teen drivers died in auto crashes. But, it does not include the number of teen passengers who also died in auto accidents. In total, 2,526 teens nationwide died as a result of auto accidents in 2017.
Losing so many young lives to auto accidents is a tragedy. Yet, there is some good news regarding teen driving statistics. The 2017 total represents a significant drop in the number of teen fatalities over the span of a decade. In 2007, 4,946 teenagers died as a result of motor vehicle crashes. The next year, 2018, showed a disturbing increase in teen driving deaths, with 5,684 in 2008. But, from 2009 on, the numbers have steadily declined. Overall, the current annual rate of teen driver fatalities is about half of what it was ten years ago.
Teen Driving Statistics: What Causes Fatal Accidents?
Teenage driving statistics show that half of all severe teen driver crashes are due to three common errors:
- Inadequate scanning to detect and respond to hazards
- Driving too fast for road conditions
- Getting distracted by something inside or outside of the vehicle
In addition, a large percentage of teen drivers make the transition from a learner’s permit to a driver’s license without having the necessary driving skills. For example, three of the most common types of teen crashes involve making left-hand turns, rear-end events, and running off the road.
Not surprisingly, the percentage of fatal accidents involving teen drivers varies widely from one state to another. In 2017, Hawaii had the lowest rate at 4.7% of all fatal accidents, while Rhode Island had the high at 18.1%. The national percentage averages 12.8%.
The Worst Change in Teen Driving Habits: Distracted Driving
The deadliest change in teen driving has been the increase in distracted driving. Distractions have always been a part of driving. But, with the advent of smartphones, mobile tablets, GPS devices, and other technologies, teen drivers face more distractions than ever. Even though the total number of fatal accidents has declined over the past decade, TeenSafe estimates that distracted driving now causes almost 6 out of every 10 teen driver accidents.
Unfortunately, this teen driving statistic is virtually impossible to measure accurately. Unlike alcohol or drugs, drivers can’t be tested for distracted driving after an accident. Yet, among organizations that track driving statistics, it’s widely believed that the number of auto accidents caused by distracted driving, including those involving fatalities, are significantly under-reported.
Why is distracted driving so dangerous? Let’s look at what it entails. According to auto safety experts, there are three basic types of driver distraction:
- Taking your eyes off the road (visual)
- Taking your mind off driving (cognitive)
- Taking your hands off the steering wheel (manual)
Texting while driving is perhaps the most dangerous distraction because it involves all three types. Once a driver takes his or her attention off the road while reading or sending a text, it can take as little as three seconds for a crash to occur.
Texting and Driving: Teen Driving Statistics
Statistics involving teen distracted driving due to cell phone usage are frightening. According to TeenSafe:
- 40% of teens report riding in a car where the driver used a cell phone in a risky manner.
- Every day in the U.S., 11 teens die in crashes caused by texting and driving.
- Brake reaction speed can be slowed by up to 18% when texting while driving.
- Holding a phone in one hand while navigating a vehicle slows reaction time by 46%.
Many auto safety experts now refer to texting and driving as the “new drunk driving.” It significantly delays drivers’ reaction times in an emergency, and it follows the same psychological pattern as drunk drivers. Every time drivers get away with texting and driving, it reinforces their belief that it is okay to engage in the behavior. As a result, they continue texting and driving until they suffer from consequences such as causing an accident or getting caught.
Teen Driving Statistics: Drunk Driving
As a group, teens abuse alcohol more than any other substance. In the United States, 12- to 20-year-olds account for more than 10% of the country’s alcohol consumption. Also, teens are more likely to binge drink, leading to higher blood alcohol levels when they get behind the wheel. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, on average, high school students drive drunk about 2.4 million times every month.
On the positive side, CDC also reports that the percentage of high-school teens who drink and drive has declined by more than half (54%) since 1991. Yet, one in 10 still drinks and drives. Other teen driving statistics involving alcohol include:
- Underage drivers are 17% more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash with alcohol in their system.
- Drivers aged 16 to 20 are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08%.
- More than one-third of fatal auto accidents involving teenagers from ages 16 to 20 involve alcohol.
- Male teen drivers are far more likely than females to die in an auto accident involving alcohol.
- Nearly 60% of young drivers involved in fatal drinking and driving crashes weren’t wearing a seat belt.
The best defense against teenage drunk driving is ongoing education about the dangers involved and imposing strict consequences when teens are caught doing it. Parents should let their teens know they can always call for a ride home if they have consumed alcohol, or use a ride-sharing service.
A Positive Change in Teen Driving Statistics: Wearing Seat Belts
The seatbelt can be considered the first widely adopted measure to improve auto safety. In fact, it is the most effective way to prevent death or severe injury in a car crash. For drivers and front-seat passengers, this life-saving device reduces the risk of death by 45% and the risk of serious injury by 50%.
In 2009, car crashes killed more than 33,000 people nationwide. More than half of those deaths occurred with people not wearing seatbelts. Fortunately, seat belt usage is on the rise throughout the U.S. Going back to 1983, seatbelt usage on a national basis was a paltry 14%. As of 2016, the national average had climbed to 90%. New Hampshire has the lowest rate at 70.2%. Georgia has the highest at 96.9. Nineteen other states have achieved user rates higher than 90%
Teen seatbelt usage has also climbed significantly, although not as much as overall usage. In 2010, more than half (54%) of the 2,814 teens killed in car accidents were not wearing a seat belt. In 2017, 78% of teen drivers involved in a car crash were wearing a seat belt during a crash. The 22% who were not wearing a seat belt accounted for 57% percent of the fatalities.
Changing Teen Driving Habits
Teenagers have always been teenagers. They have been driving too fast ever since cars could go fast. They think auto accidents only happen to someone else. And, the majority of teen auto accidents – fatal or otherwise – occur without an adult in the car.
To continue the downward trend in teenage auto fatalities, parents need to:
- Regularly engage their teens in discussions about safe driving.
- Forbid drinking and cell phone usage while driving.
- Establish serious consequences (i.e. loss of driving privileges) if teens are caught texting or drunk behind the wheel.
- Enforce these consequences without exception.
Most importantly, parents need to model the right behaviors for their teens. Always wear seatbelts, even when driving just a few blocks away. Don’t use your cell phone for any reason while driving. Don’t engage in other distracted driving behaviors, such as eating, grooming, etc. Never get behind the wheel when you have had too much to drink.
Hopefully, through ongoing education and modeling the right behaviors, safe driving behaviors will go up while teen driving fatalities decline.
This blog post was contributed by Fix Auto Gilroy, a leading industry expert and collision repair shop servicing the eastern Santa Clara county.
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