STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — For teens, there’s nothing quite like the freedom of hitting the open road. But for parents, it can be a bit scary letting their children behind the wheel given the risks.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens between the ages of 15 and 18, according to federal traffic data.
In 2020, over 2,200 Americans were killed in crashes involving teen drivers, with 748 of the deaths being the teen drivers themselves.
With these stats in mind, the week of Oct. 16 through Oct. 22 has been dubbed National Teen Driver Safety Week, a nationwide campaign to help educate teen drivers and their parents about the dangers of reckless driving behavior.
“This week, and every week, parents should have conversations with their teens about the important rules they need to follow to stay safe behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. These rules address the greatest dangers for teen drivers: alcohol, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding, and number of passengers,” according to the campaign.
Last year, the Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) and Ford Motor Company released a report analyzing the role that speeding plays in making motor vehicle crashes the leading cause of death for U.S. teens between the ages of 15 and 18.
From 2015 to 2019, speeding was a factor in 43% of all teen driver and passenger fatalities.
For all other age groups, speeding was a factor in just 30% of all roadway fatalities, indicating that teen driver and passenger deaths are disproportionately likely to involve a speeding motorist.
“The data tell us that teen drivers are the most likely to be tempted to speed, so the need to address this issue is more critical than ever, given traffic death trends during the pandemic,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executor director.
Teen drivers’ need for speed can be attributed to a number of factors, including lack of experience, elevated risk thresholds and feelings of invincibility.
“These factors make it all the more important for parents and driving educators to ensure that teens are well aware of the risks associated with speeding before they get behind the wheel,” said Jim Graham, fund manager for Ford Motor Company.
Teens should be reminded that, while it can be fun to put the pedal to metal on the open road, speeding drastically increases the chances of a fatality in the event of a collision.
Impaired driving is also among the most pressing concerns for teen drivers.
Despite the fact that teen drivers are not of legal age to purchase alcohol, 16% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2018 had alcohol in their system, data shows.
Parents should emphasize the risks of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to their teens, constantly reminding them that such behavior is unacceptable.
Not wearing a seat belt is another major issue for teen drivers, with 45% of teen drivers killed in a crash in 2018 not buckled up at the time of the crash.
And in those crashes involving unbuckled drivers, nine of the 10 passengers who died also failed to wear a seatbelt, according to the data.
Parents should remind their teens that seatbelts are not optional and play a pivotal role in potentially saving a life in the event of a crash.
With teenagers often glued to their cell phone, distracted driving also plays a major role in the reckless nature of teen drivers.
Federal crash data shows that nearly 10% of all teen drivers involved in a fatal crash in 2018 were cited for distracted driving.
Parents should advise their kids to avoid texting and phone calls while driving, encouraging them to wait until they reach their destination to pick up the phone.
Parents may also consider limiting the number of passengers permitted in a teen’s vehicle, with data showing that a teen’s likelihood of engaging in risky driving behavior triples when there are multiple passengers in the car.
The GHSA encourages parents to regularly schedule driving practice sessions with their teens, noting that young drivers whose parents monitor their driving are less likely to engage in reckless driving behavior and be involved in a fatal crash.