According to Drive It Home, an initiative of the National Safety Council, designed for parents of newly licensed teen drivers, car crashes are the No 1 cause of death for US teens.
The initiative offers free resources parents can use to help their teen build experience to become safer drivers. The program’s primary goal is to reduce the number of driving deaths, injuries, and crashes involving teen drivers to zero.
The number of teenagers who die in car crashes equals or tops the number killed from homicide or suicide each year. That’s also true for Americans in the 25–44 age range, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using the 15–24 age group, almost 40 percent of deaths were caused by unintentional injuries or accidents.
Not all of those deaths were from car crashes, but the majority of them were. The main reason why teens get into car crashes is inexperience behind the wheel.
According to the CDC, the biggest risks come from:
- Males: In 2013, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 16 to 19 was almost two times that of their female counterparts.
- Teens driving with teen passengers: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers.
- Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure.
It’s this last one Drive It Home deals with the best: inexperience.
Compared with all other age groups, teens’ driving habits, which arise from inexperience, are riskiest. They use seat belts less frequently than other drivers; they don’t recognize hazardous situations more frequently than other drivers; and they’re more likely to speed and leave shorter stopping distances between themselves and the vehicle they’re following.
So, because of the 14th Amendment, we’re not going to pass laws that prevent male teens from driving, so we need other options.
Graduated driver licensing programs can give us options. These programs phase in full-fledged freedom behind the wheel over a few years, as teens gain valuable experience. Laws differ from state to state, though.
Susan Baker, Li-Hui Chen, and Dr Guohua Li, all of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reviewed nationwide GDL programs in 2007, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a more current analysis of the GDL laws in different states.
For example, Idaho and South Carolina don’t allow teens to drive at night. Several states limit permits to 16-year-olds or higher. But the biggest list of states comes under the “no teen passengers” restriction. Maryland, the District of Columbia, and 15 other states don’t allow teens to drive with teenage passengers in the car.