In a press release issued in May of this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported a decline in fatalities from motor vehicle crashes in the US for 2019. This suggests a continued decline, as the country also saw fewer traffic-related deaths in 2017 and 2018.
Nonetheless, car crashes remain one of the leading causes of death in the US—and a chunk of these incidents may be attributed to teen drivers. According to the NHTSA, teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal vehicular accidents, and research shows that drivers under 25 years old are more likely to engage in distracted or drunk driving than any other age group.
To help reduce the risk of teen injuries and fatalities on the road, parents and teenage drivers are encouraged to participate in National Teen Driver Safety Week (NTDSW). The campaign, which will be held this year from October 18 to 24, seeks to promote public awareness and promote safer driving practices among teens.
In honor of the campaign, we’ve compiled a list of essential driving tips every teen (and parent) should know.
Essential Teen Driving Tips
The legal driving age varies per state, but it typically ranges from 16 to 21 years old. In some states, teens can get their learner’s permit as early as age 14.
Data shows that the younger the driver, the more likely they are to get into an accident—particularly during the first few months of licensure. According to findings from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, the crash rate per mile driven is 1.5 times higher for 16-year-olds than drivers aged 18 to 19.
Due to their novice skills and inexperience, young drivers are at greater risk of getting into traffic accidents—which is why it’s important for parents to actively guide and teach their teens when they first start driving.
Here are some teen driving tips to keep in mind:
Always wear your seat belt.
Cars have seat belts for a reason—this simple safety feature has been saving lives since the 1950s.
Wearing a seat belt is one of the most basic safety precautions, but it is also one of the most effective ways to help avoid injury or death in an accident. When going for a drive, make sure the seat belt is properly fastened before turning the engine on.
Follow the speed limit.
Speeding is one of the main reasons behind vehicular crashes among teens. While teen drivers should have already been made aware of the dangers of speeding long before they got to sit behind the wheel, many of them continue to flout the speed limit.
Some teens can become overconfident in their driving skills, leading them to believe that they can easily maneuver their vehicle even at high speeds. Another reason why teen drivers drive too fast is to impress their peers, according to a study released by the NHTSA. Based on the findings, teens driving with passengers from the same age group are more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors—like driving over the speed limit.
Parents must continuously remind their teen drivers to follow the speed limit and maintain awareness of the road at all times.
Avoid nighttime driving.
Driving at night increases the probability of accidents due to low visibility. Also, many drivers are likely to have decreased reaction times and shorter attention spans at this time of day.
Most fatal crashes reportedly happen at night—regardless of the driver’s age. Therefore, newbie drivers should be discouraged from driving at night, especially if they’re tired or sleepy.
Limit smartphone use.
In many states, it’s considered illegal to hold your phone while driving—a practice that not only diverts your eyes from the road but also leaves you with only one hand to operate your vehicle.
Responsible drivers should only use their smartphones for emergency purposes. Avoid answering calls or texts if possible—and if you must, at least wait until you are able to pull over.
If you need to use your phone for navigation, it’s a good idea to install a phone holder that would allow you to keep it in your line of sight and within reach, but without impeding your view of the road.
Do not eat or drink while driving.
Some drivers have a habit of eating while driving—particularly if they’re in a hurry to get to school and work. Now, doing this may seem like a great way to save time, but it can also be extremely dangerous as it can cause you to get distracted while driving.
If you really have to consume food or drink, at least park your car at a safe location or wait until you arrive at your destination.
Never drive under the influence.
Driving under the influence is one of the leading causes of fatal crashes in the US. The effects of alcohol can negatively affect one’s senses, causing blurry vision, poor reaction times, reduced decision-making abilities, and loss of control.
And of course, we shouldn’t have to remind you that the federally mandated minimum legal drinking age is 21 years old.
Keep the music down.
Listening to music can be a great way to alleviate boredom during a particularly long drive. Also, while not expressly recommended as a remedy against drowsy driving, some people find it easier to stay alert when they have something to listen to during early morning commutes.
Whatever your reason for wanting to play music while on the road, it’s important to keep it at a reasonable volume. Loud music can be a distraction and may lead to delayed reaction times.
Teen drivers may also want to avoid adding high-tempo songs to their driving playlist. Songs with over 120 beats per minute can cause drivers to subconsciously drive faster and more recklessly, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Don’t overload your vehicle.
Check the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of your vehicle before loading it up with cargo or passengers. The GVWR can be found inside a front door panel, somewhere in the engine bay, or in your owner’s manual.
Overloading may result in loss of control or mechanical problems.
Check the weather beforehand.
It is always a good idea to look up the weather forecast before getting on the road. Bad weather can be extremely dangerous, especially for first-time drivers. Rain will make the roads slick and slippery, plus it will also greatly hamper visibility.
If the weather is bad, it’s best to avoid driving altogether. However, if it’s absolutely essential, just keep in mind to be extra careful and vigilant. When driving on wet roads, reduce your speed and be careful when turning corners.
Have a plan for emergencies.
It is always best to have a plan for all eventualities. No one knows what can happen on the road, so it’s best to anticipate the worst and prepare for them.
Check the car’s condition before leaving the driveway and make sure to have the necessary tools for instances such as a blown tire, overheating, and a dead battery.
Also, every first-time driver will eventually get involved in a fender bender at some point, which is why parents should make sure that their teen knows what to do in the event of a traffic accident.
Teen Driving Statistics You Need to Know
Most of the tips we’ve listed above are basic things that any driver—first-timer or otherwise—should already be aware of. So why do some teens still engage in potentially risky driving behaviors?
Perhaps it’s because they aren’t aware of how common (and deadly) traffic-related accidents can be.
In reality, car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens of legal driving age in the US. Approximately 2,364 teens aged 16 to 19 died in traffic-related accidents in 2017 alone—that’s an average of six teenage deaths per day. Not to mention, a whopping 300,000 teenagers received emergency treatments for car crash injuries in the same year.
That’s a lot, considering that teenagers represented 6.5% of the US population in 2017.
There are several factors that put teen drivers at risk of dangerous and potentially fatal road accidents—some of the most common are alcohol use and their susceptibility to distractions.
Let’s take a look at some statistics on these risk factors:
Fatalities Involving Distracted Driving
There are several reasons why distracted driving is a problem, especially for teen drivers. Due to their inexperience, they may be unable to react quickly and appropriately to road hazards, weather, and unexpected incidents.
Although there’s a 2.2% decrease in distraction-related accidents in 2016, ten percent of teen driver fatalities in the same year involved distracted driving. Here are the numbers:
- 3,166 people were killed by distracted driving in 2017.
- According to an American Automobile Association’s (AAA) poll, 94% of teen drivers acknowledge texting and driving dangers—and 35% admitted to still doing it.
- 34% of teens aged 16 and 17 admit that they send and respond to text messages while driving.
- In 2017, 15,341 drivers aged 15-29 were involved in fatal crashes due to distractions or cell phone use.
- Studies claim that teen drivers are four times more likely to get into car crashes or near-crashes when talking or texting on a cell phone than adults.
Fatalities Involving Drunk Driving
Another contributor to teen driver deaths is driving while intoxicated. As mentioned, alcohol is one of the major culprits behind serious car crashes.
Here’s a peek at previous drunk driving incidents, as well as the facts:
- About 5.8% of 16- and 17-year-olds and 15.1% of 18- to 20-year-olds reported driving under the influence of alcohol.
- About 8.2% of high school students admitted driving a car or other vehicle one or more times when they had been drinking.
- 33% of the young drivers aged 15 to 20 killed in crashes had a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .01 or higher, while 28% had .08 or higher
- The legal BAC limit for drivers over age 21 is below .08%. Ages 21 and below have a lower BAC limit from 0% to .02%.
- In 2017, 1,830 drivers aged 15 to 20 died in alcohol-related crashes. 22% of the teen drivers were not wearing their seatbelts at the time of the crash.
Parents can help their teens be safer behind the wheel by educating them on road rules and stressing the dangers of engaging in risky driving behaviors such as speeding, texting while driving, and more.
Safe Vehicles Recommended for Teens
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) thinks used cars are the ideal first car choices for new teen drivers. In a national phone survey conducted for IIHS of parents with teen drivers, 83% bought a used car for their teens.
The IIHS recommends vehicles with good ratings in its moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests, including a good or acceptable rating in the driver-side small overlap front test.
All of the vehicles the agency recommends come standard with electronic stability control and have a curb weight greater than 2,750 pounds.
There are two tiers of recommended vehicles: best choices and good choices. The list includes an assorted range of cars from small cars to minivans. Price is crucial for parents searching for their teen’s first vehicle, so here’s a list of cars with $5,000 to $20,000 price tags, as recommended by the IIHS:
- Mazda 3 (sedan and hatchback_
- Subaru Impreza (sedan and wagon)
- Hyundai Elantra GT
- Subaru Legacy
- Subaru Outback
- Honda Accord (sedan and coupe)
- Hyundai Genesis
- Mazda CX-5
- Buick Encore
- Chevrolet Equinox
- GMC Terrain
- Kia Sorento
- Nissan Murano
- Toyota Sienna
- Honda Odyssey
- Kia Sedona