- Driver inexperience
- Lack of seatbelt use
- Teen passengers
- Distracted driving
- Drowsy driving
- Reckless driving
- Nighttime and weekend driving
- Driving under the influence
Keep reading to learn more about each of these risk factors.
Because teens are new to the road, they are less able than older, more experienced drivers to recognize dangerous situations. They may also make mistakes behind the wheel that older drivers may not make, thus leading to serious crashes.
Fortunately, teen drivers learn quickly. Crash risks are highest during the first month of licensure, but the crash risk is about 1.5 times lower for 16-year-olds than it is for 18- to 19-year-old.
Teen Seatbelt Use
Teenagers and young adults have the lowest rates of seatbelt use in the United States. Unfortunately, not wearing a seatbelt increases the risk of serious injury and death in all car accidents. In 2018, almost half of the drivers and passengers who died in car accidents while they were 16 to 19 years of age were unrestrained at the time of the crash.
(Always buckle your seatbelt — no matter how old you are!)
When teens drive with passengers, they are even more at risk. Just like teens aren’t the most experienced drivers, teen passengers may not recognize the responsibility of riding in someone else’s car. Teen drivers may also become distracted or try to impress their friends behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
“teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with one teenage peer, compared to when driving alone.”
Drowsy and Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is a big problem for all drivers, but it can be especially dangerous for teenagers, who are already at a disadvantage behind the wheel due to a lack of experience. Teenagers today also grew up with smartphones and the internet, which may lead to them being more “plugged in,” even when being plugged in is unsafe. Texting and driving, for example, is a huge problem among teen drivers.
Today’s teens are also very busy, which may lead to them not getting enough sleep. Drowsy driving is a significant problem in the United States, and teen drivers are responsible for 1 out of every 10 fatal drowsy driving crashes. In addition to falling asleep at the wheel, drowsy driving may cause compromised attention, alertness, reaction time, judgment, and decision-making capabilities.
Speeding and tailgating are common — and dangerous — behaviors that teenagers partake in all too often. Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow less following distance. Male teenagers are also more likely to speed than female teens.
Nighttime and Weekend Driving
Learning how to drive at night takes time, and nothing can make up for experience. A large portion (37%) of teen traffic fatalities occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., and more than half of teen traffic fatalities occur on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
Nights and weekends may be the times when teens are more likely to have teen passengers, or teens may be drowsy or distracted. Worse, some teens may be under the influence.
Driving Under the Influence
Drugs and alcohol are never acceptable behind the wheel — for anyone. Further, consuming any amount of alcohol is illegal for people who are less than 21 years of age. Driving after any amount of drinking is illegal for teenagers, and any amount of alcohol can impair.
Although the rates of drinking and driving have decreased among teenagers (by 54% since 1991), some teenagers still choose to drink and drive. Recreational drugs, like marijuana, are also becoming more popular, but driving while impaired is dangerous no matter what.
Prevention — Fight the Eight Danger Zones
Parents have the biggest influence on their teenagers’ driving behaviors. Parents should talk to their teens about safe driving, set good examples, and make sure teens face consequences for unsafe driving. Being grounded is always better than getting in a car accident.
Still, some car accidents are impossible to prevent. If you get into an accident with a teen driver or your teen suffers harm at another driver’s hands, you may need an attorney to walk you through the next steps.