Motor vehicle accidents — they’re the leading cause of injury and death among teens.
In fact, teenage drivers have the highest rate of motor vehicle accidents among all age groups in the United States. In California, the statistics can be scary. Our state saw 73,736 crashes in 2016 involving drivers 16 to 20 years old, according to data from the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System. In those crashes, 437 people were killed.
Experts say it’s because teenage drivers are inherently immature, lack experience, engage in risky behaviors, and often think of themselves as invincible. For these reasons, it’s important to talk to teen drivers about the responsibilities, rules, and consequences that come with getting behind the steering wheel.
With the help of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, here are six major dangers affecting teen drivers:
- Drive sober: In 2016, nearly one out of five teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking alcohol despite the fact that it’s illegal everywhere to drink if you’re under 21 throughout the United States. Make it clear that driving impaired by any substance — alcohol or drugs — is deadly and against the law.
- Buckle up: Roughly half of those 16 to 20 years old who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016 weren’t wearing seat belts. In 85 percent of the cases when the teen driver wasn’t wearing a seat belt, their passengers were not wearing seat belts either. Tell your teen driver they must buckle up, every ride, every time.
- No distractions: About 10 percent of all teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash. Explain the dangers of driving distracted by phones and texting or anything else, and that driving attentively is essential for safe driving.
- No speeding: Speeding was a factor in about one-third of all fatal teen driver crashes. Faster speeds rob inexperienced teen drivers of the extra reaction time they may need to avoid a crash. Emphasize that they must obey posted speed limits.
- Passengers: Passengers can serve as another distraction for inexperienced teen drivers. That’s why many states have graduated driver licensing restrictions, which prohibit any passengers in vehicles with teen drivers.
- Drowsy driving: Between school, sports, activities, and part-time jobs, a teen’s schedule can cut into much needed sleep, which can lead to drowsy driving. People are most likely to feel drowsy between the hours of 2 and 6 p.m., which is generally when teens are driving home from school. Explain the dangers of driving drowsy before your teen driver takes the wheel.
As for parents, caregivers and adults, keep these points in mind as well:
- Graduated Driver License: As mentioned above already, “GDL” laws set limits on teen drivers for safety. In California, there are restrictions on driving late at night during the first year they have a license. Learn about all of the GDL laws in California here.
- Lead by example: Practice safe driving yourself. You’re a role model — when a teen driver sees you obeying the rules of the road, they get the message. Also, have practice driving sessions with your teen.
- Set ground rules: No cell phones, no passengers, no speeding, no alcohol, no drowsy driving, and always buckle up. No keys until they know the rules. Establish consequences you will enforce if your teen breaks the rules. One suggestion is to draw up a parent-teen driver agreement — a contract that spells out hours the teen may drive, who pays for the gas and insurance, rules for major driving distractions such as passengers, and anything else the parent wants to include.
- With driving comes great responsibility: Remind your teen that driving requires your full attention. Texts and phone calls can wait. Teach them about zero-tolerance laws, and the consequences they face for driving after drinking or using drugs. Urge them to never ride with someone who has been drinking or using drugs.
National Teen Driver Safety Week is a great reminder to discuss safe driving, but you should keep the conversation going year-round. You’ll not only better protect your young driver; you’ll be contributing to safer roads in your community.
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at the website chainlaw.com.