It’s not just over protectiveness that should make parents cautious when handing over the keys to their teenager. Research and data on the facts about teenage drivers show that the first years behind the wheel are filled with risks. Minnesotans for Safe Driving state, “Driving is the most dangerous activity you or your teen will most likely ever do.” A 2008 report to Congress by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2006, drivers age 15 to 20 years old had the “highest fatal crash involvement rate of any age group…” This means that teenage drivers are more at risk for being involved in a vehicle accident than adults.

Some Statistics on Teenage Driving

  • In the 16 to 20 year old age group, 16-year-olds have a higher raFacts about teenage driversCredit: Flickr: jgrebedwte of accidents. 20-year-olds have the lowest rate. The first year of driving is the most hazardous.
  • Teen drivers are least likely to use their seat belt.
  • Teen drivers are more likely to speed, even with poor road conditions.
  • Driving at night increases a teen’s risk for an accident.
  • Driving on weekends increases the risk for an accident.
  • Driving with other teenage passengers increases a teen’s risk for an accident. The risk increases for every additional teen passenger in the car.
  • Males are more at risk for accidents than female teen drivers. These are the statistics insurance companies use to set higher car insurance rates for young male drivers.
  • “About 2 out of every 3 teenagers killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 were males,” reports the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
  • In 2009, 33 percent of teen drivers who died in a car accident had blood alcohol levels at or above .01 according to the NHTSA. 70 percent of those drivers were not wearing a seat belt. 20-year-olds are more likely to be drinking and driving than younger teens.

Statistics on Teenage Driving: Some Good News

  • Teen driver fatalities declined by 35 percent from 2000 to 2009 according to the NHTSA. Car accident related injuries to 15- to 20-year-old drivers decreased by 14 percent from 2008 to 2009.
  • State laws to protect teen drivers, including graduated licensing laws, making 21 the legal age for drinking, and seat belt laws have all proven to reduce vehicle accidents and injuries.

Why Teens Make Risky Drivers

Most parents of teens probably already know why teen driving is a risky venture. Those factors that contribute to a high crash rate for teens were noted in the NHTSA report. These include “immaturity, inexperience, faulty judgment, and a higher propensity for risk-taking…Additionally, younger drivers are not experienced in hazard recognition. They do not generally acknowledge inherently dangerous situations…and therefore do not react appropriately.”

In the July 2008 Report to Congress, the NHTSA also stated this:

Younger drivers do not always consider the consequences of their actions. Recent research in adolescent development supports the contention that younger people are often developmentally less capable of making sound judgments and decision regarding potentially risky behavior. Areas of the brain involved in rendering judgments and making decisions are not fully developed until around age 25.

In short, teenagers don’t have past experience with all of the hazards and scenarios that can occur while driving to rely on to make quick good decisions. This combined with the not yet fully mature teenage brain that is inclined to taking risks makes driving more hazardous for teenagers.  They are not as likely to judge the situation correctly and have the appropriate response.

What Can Parents Do to Keep Their Teenage Driver Safe?

Statistics and parental instincts may make parents want to never hand over the keys. However, part of the risk for accidents is due to inexperience. Teens need to drive in order to become safe drivers. Never letting your teen drive won’t give him or her the experience needed to become a safe adult driver. In addition, many teen related vehicle accidents can be prevented if teens follow state driving laws and their parents’ rules.Facts About Teen DriversCredit: Flickr: Robert Couse-Baker

To give your teen experience driving while reducing the risk that she or he will be involved in an accident, the NHSTA recommends following a graduated driver licensing program. This is where parents severely limit driving times and place strict conditions on driving.  Parents then allow more driving privileges over time when their teen driver is more experienced and has shown to be a safe driver that follows state laws.

Some states have graduated driver licensing program laws, such as not allowing newly licensed teens to have passengers under the age of 21. Such graduated licensing laws have proven to be successful at reducing teen involved accidents by 20 percent. But no state includes all of the recommendations made by the NHSTA. Setting up a full graduated driver licensing plan is up to parents to implement.

Also, having a no tolerance policy for drinking and driving, speeding, using the phone while driving, and insisting your teen wears a seat belt at all times will greatly reduce their risk for an accident or injury should they be involved in an accident.

If you feel your child is not ready to get a license, then you can also choose to require more driver’s training and driving with parental supervision to gain more practice. 

Need more security to be willing to hand over the keys to your teen? Technology can help you monitor your child’s driving to ensure they are following the rules. Dash cameras and GPS vehicle trackers can let you know where your child is, how fast they are driving, and what they are doing behind the wheel.  You can buy a cell phone for your child that deactivates when the car is moving.

Don’t let the statistics and facts about teenage drivers add to your fear about giving your teen the car keys. Instead use them to understand the behavior of young drivers and make your child become a better and more responsible driver. Just as with adults, many teen car accidents are preventable and injuries can be avoided with simple things, such as wearing a seat belt and not drinking while driving.

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