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Teen driving accidents have dropped in recent decades. Still, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death of teens in the U.S. There are ways to prevent these tragedies. Parents and guardians can set a positive example by following safe driving practices and reminding teens constantly of their importance.

Many safety guidelines should be enforced, such as limiting the number of teen passengers in the vehicle and establishing a zero-tolerance policy regarding teen drivers operating with any amount of alcohol or drugs in their system.

Cell phone use while driving should be strongly discouraged, as teen drivers should always focus on the road and their surroundings, considering all potential hazards.

Read more to learn the various common practices teen drivers can adhere to and reduce their risk of becoming involved in fatal crashes that could lead to tragedies.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Teen drivers have higher car crashes as they are inexperienced and lack judgment while driving.
  • Graduated driver licensing laws have been a key reason teen driver fatalities have fallen since the 1990s. Each state has some form of graduated licensing law, such as nighttime and passenger restrictions for teen drivers.
  • Parents can play a major role in keeping their teen drivers safe by enforcing stricter rules than states, modeling good behavior, spending time with their teens while driving, and teaching them good habits early on.

What are the common mistakes leading to teen driver fatalities?

Distracted driving

In what the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety called “the most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers,” researchers found that distracted driving plays a larger role in teen-related motor vehicle crashes than police report data show.

The AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash of almost 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders. They found that distracted driving played a part in 58 percent of all crashes. This is much higher than 14 percent of all teen driver crashes that has been reported by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, according to AAA.

The study found that drivers, who were on their cell phones, kept their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final six seconds leading to a crash. In fact, researchers found that teens, who were using their cell phones, didn’t react more than half of the time in rear-end crashes and actually crashed without braking or steering.

Here is what the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found was the most common form of distraction in crashes involving teens in the study:

  • Interacting with one or more passengers – 15 percent of crashes
  • Cell phone use – 12 percent
  • Looking at something in the vehicle – 10 percent
  • Looking at something outside the vehicle – 9 percent
  • Singing/moving to music – 8 percent
  • Grooming – 6 percent
  • Reaching for an object – 6 percent

“It is troubling that passengers and cell phones were the most common forms of distraction given that these factors can increase crash risks for teen drivers,” says AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet, in announcing the results. “The situation is made worse by the fact that young drivers have spent less time behind the wheel and cannot draw upon their previous experience to manage unsafe conditions.”

Speeding

Teen drivers have been found to exceed speed limits more than adult drivers, potentially putting themselves and others at risk of a fatal accident.

As per the traffic safety facts by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 35% of male drivers and 18% of female drivers of age group 15-20 years are found speeding at the time of fatal crashes.

Peer passenger

Unsupervised teenage drivers face an elevated risk of getting into a crash when they have a young adult or teen passenger in their vehicle, says CDC. The more companions, the bigger the danger – so it's best to keep ride-sharing among teens and other inexperienced motorists to a minimum and avoid motor vehicle accidents.

How can you prevent teen driver fatalities?

Many safety guidelines should be enforced, such as limiting the number of teen passengers in the vehicle and establishing a zero-tolerance policy regarding teen drivers' drunk driving.

Parents practicing good driving skills

Parents can play a major role in keeping their teen drivers safe and help in preventing car accidents.

Kara Macek, director of communications at the GHSA, says parents need to be the enforcers of teen driver laws – even more so than the police.

“We rely on parents to understand and engage,” says Macek.

Macek says GHSA has teamed up with Ford Motor Company to promote the importance of parents for teen drivers. It’s important for parents to not only know the laws, but understand why they exist, she says.

“The most important thing is to be totally open and honest, explain that the reason you’re doing this is that you love them and you don’t want to lose them or see them hurt,” says Macek.

Here are a few ways parents can help their teen drivers:

  • Parents are the law in the household. They can enforce stricter rules than states.
  • Model good behavior. Children are always watching and observing their parents. Make sure you are a good role model as a driver by wearing seat belts and driving without drinking alcohol – even when they’re infants.
  • Don’t text and drive.
  • Drive with your teen and practice in different conditions. Teen drivers will make better decisions if parents spend more time in the passenger seat.

“Today’s teens are tomorrow’s adults and today’s teens are tomorrow’s influencers. It’s really important that you get them on good driving habits early,” she says.

Graduated driver licensing laws

As per GHSA most states have graduated driver licensing laws to reduce teen deaths while driving. However, the laws and restrictions vary from state to state. It is best to be aware of these laws as per your state guidelines to better enforce them on teen drivers.

The most common restrictions for teenage drivers under graduated driver licensing are:

  • Ban on using cell phones and texting while driving
  • Nighttime driving restrictions
  • Passenger restriction

Adult influencers can play a part

GHSA is promoting a recent study called “Under Their Influence: The New Teen Safe Driving Champions.” The report, which was funded through a grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund, says “adult influencers,” such as teachers and coaches, can help lead teen drivers to make better decisions.

Some states, including New York, have created programs to engage coaches to teach better teen driver behavior. The idea is that teachers and coaches often spend as much, if not more, time with teens than parents. These adult influencers can reinforce good driving habits that are modeled by parents.

Macek says these kinds of community programs can play an important role in preventing teen driver fatalities.

“These are preventable tragedies. It takes all of us,” says Macek. “There is no silver bullet. It’s going to take all of us working together.”

Find out all about teen driver insurance in ourCar Insurance for Teens Guide

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