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Top 5 Most Common Causes of Teen Driving Accidents

Tragically, Most Teen Driving Accidents Are Preventable

Which group of drivers has the single greatest risk of a car crash every time they hit the roads? It’s teen drivers, the 16 to 19 years olds with the least experience behind the wheel. Their crash rates are about four times higher than the crash rates of adult drivers (source: AAA).

In fact, every day in the U.S., auto accidents kill at least 7 teenagers and injure hundreds more (source: CDC). As terrible as that is, the news gets even worse — most of these teen car accidents could have been prevented if young drivers had made better choices behind the wheel.

If your teen is learning to drive or has recently gotten a driver’s license, here’s what you should know about teen driving accidents, how most of them happen, and what you can do to keep your teen safe on the roads.

Teen Car Accident Statistics: How Big Is the Problem?

The latest statistics on teen driving accidents are grim, showing just how serious and devastating these wrecks are (source: CDC):

  • About 2 in every 5 fatal teen car accidents occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • More than half (52%) of all deadly teen driving accidents happen on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays.
  • Male teens are twice as likely as female teens to be killed in a car accident.
  • About 50% of teens 16 to 19 who are killed in auto accidents were not buckled up at the time of the crash. This includes teen drivers and teen passengers involved in deadly wrecks.
  • The costs of medical expenses and lost productivity from teen driving accidents total more than $4.8 billion a year.

5 Leading Causes of Teen Driving Accidents

Why are so many teenagers dying in car accidents? According to the statistics, the top 5 causes of teen car accidents are:

  1. Speeding
  2. Drunk Driving
  3. Texting & Driving
  4. Other Teen Passengers
  5. Inexperience

The following shares more on each cause (sources for all cause-related data on teen driving accidents: CDC, NHTSA & AAA). Click on the link above to jump to any cause on the list.

1. Speeding

About 1 in 5 deadly teen car accidents involve speeding, and male teens are twice as likely as females to speed and cause fatal wrecks. Nevertheless, both genders have the highest rates of speeding among teens when compared to motorists in any other age group.

While teens putting the pedal to the medal is clearly a problem, it’s compounded by the fact that teen drivers tend to follow vehicles closer than older, more experienced motorists. This means shorter headway spaces and a greater risk of more serious collisions for teen drivers.

2. Drunk Driving

Every state has a zero-tolerance law for teen (underage) drivers. That means that it’s illegal for teens to have any alcohol in their systems while they’re behind the wheel. Still, some teens make the awful choice to drink and drive, and far too often, that causes horrific wrecks.

In fact, research shows that:

  • Lots of drunk teens are deciding to drive: Close to 1 in 5 teen drivers killed in car accidents had been drinking alcohol before the crash. More than 2 in 3 of these drunk teen drivers were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the wreck.
     
  • Teens are far more vulnerable to the impairing effects of alcohol: Even with BACs below the legal limit for adults (less than 0.08), teens have a much higher risk of causing crashes. That’s because teens are far more susceptible to alcohol and they’re far more likely to have worse impairments, like longer delays in reactions or more misperceptions of their driving environment.

It’s important to note that many teens, as drivers and other travelers on the roads, are killed by other drunk drivers who are 21 or older. Unfortunately, drunk driving is a deadly problem that’s pervasive across many age groups and all types of motorists.

3. Texting & Driving

Distraction can be as impairing as alcohol, and about 1 in every 9 teens who die in a car crash are killed by a distracted driver. For teen drivers, one of the biggest distractions behind the wheel can be texting while driving.

Despite the known dangers of texting while driving — and strong enforcement of texting-while-driving bans in most U.S. states — many teens are still picking up their cellphones behind the wheel. In recent surveys, close to 2 in 5 teens admitted to texting or emailing while driving more than once within the past 30 days.

4. Other Teen Passengers

Unsupervised teens driving around with other teens is a recipe for wrecks, injuries, and deaths. According to the latest findings, teen drivers’ crash risk increases with every additional teen passenger that’s in the car:

  • One teen passenger, without any adults in the car, will increase the risk of a fatal crash by about 44%.
  • Two teen passengers double the risk of a fatal wreck.
  • Three teen passengers quadruple the risk of a deadly car accident.

The more teen passengers, the greater the crash risk because:

  • Teen passengers can be distracting.
  • Teen drivers are more likely to show off behind the wheel when other teens are riding in their vehicles without adult supervision.

5. Inexperience

It’s no secret that teens are the newest drivers on the roads. That’s why most states have instituted graduated driver’s license (GDL) programs. Nevertheless, that inexperience still presents a problem because, when compared to older drivers:

  • Teen drivers are less skilled at recognizing dangerous situations.
  • Teen drivers are more likely to make serious errors in judgment, and those often contribute to catastrophic wrecks.

Teen drivers will have the highest risk of getting into a car accident during their first month of having a brand-new driver’s license. In fact, the crash risk for a newly licensed 16-year-old-driver is about 1.5 times higher than it is for 18- and 19-year-old motorists.

How to Reduce the Risk of Teen Driving Accidents: 5 Tips

Whether your teen is about to get a license or (s)he’s been driving for a while, here are some things you can do to help keep them safe on the roads:

  1. Set some ground rules: Talk to your teen about the responsibility of driving and make the rules (and consequences of breaking them) clear. Sharing stories about how car accidents have affected your life can also be impactful.
     
  2. Encourage buckling up: Wearing a seatbelt is the simplest way to dramatically reduce the risk of injury and death if a crash ever happens. So, encourage your teen to always buckle up, regardless of whether (s)he’s driving or riding as a passenger.
     
  3. Take advantage of technology: Consider downloading an app that locks your teen’s cellphone while a vehicle is being driven. Beyond that, vehicles equipped with warning systems and driver assistance technologies can be good options if you’re looking for the next step in safety for your teen driver.
     
  4. Set a good example: Be the safe driver you want your teen to be. Buckle up, follow the rules of the road, and try to stay on top of taking care of your vehicle so it can take care of you.
     
  5. Routinely talk to your teen: Driving safety talks aren’t a one-and-done thing. Make it a habit to regularly discuss driving safety and check in with your teen driver.

The Bottom Line on Teen Car Accidents

When it comes to teen driving accidents, the bottom line is that these wrecks are common, deadly, and — in many cases — 100% preventable. Taking a proactive approach to driving safety with your teen can go a long way towards reducing their crash risk, keeping them safe behind the wheel, and preventing more teen driving accidents. 

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