Teen Drivers: Protecting Your Safety

By  //  September 18, 2021

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Sadly, auto accidents are the second leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. In 2019 alone, nearly 2,400 young people between ages 13 and 19 were killed in car crashes—many of them preventable. What should parents of teens (and teens themselves) know about staying safe and legal behind the wheel?

Teen Driver Crash Facts

New teen drivers, or those between ages 16 and 19, are about three times as likely to be in a fatal crash as compared to drivers who are 20 or older. This is largely due to driver inexperience; just a few years of regular driving can help instill the motor skills and quick thinking drivers need to avoid hazards. Teens are also more likely than older drivers to be involved in fatal crashes at night.

In 2019, about two in five U.S. high school students reported that they don’t always wear a seat belt when riding in a car as a passenger. This can be a dangerous, even deadly decision, as seat belt usage can significantly reduce the odds of being seriously injured or killed in a crash.

Some of the other factors that contribute to teen drivers’ higher crash risks include:

■ Driving with other teens as passengers, which can increase distraction;

■ Texting or other distracted driving;

■ Driving while tired;

■ Reckless driving, including street racing, turning off headlights, and other risky behaviors; and

■ Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In addition to increasing teen driver’s risk of being in a car accident, some of these behaviors or habits—including distracted driving, reckless driving, and driving under the influence—are also against state law. And teen drivers who are caught without a seatbelt can also face stiff civil penalties (which, in turn, will significantly increase their auto insurance rates).

Setting Rules for Teen Drivers

Being the parent of a new teen driver can be nerve-wracking. Fortunately, there are some rules parents or guardians can establish that will help keep teen drivers safe and law-abiding while on the road.

Pre-License Supervision

Before your teen sets out alone, it’s a good idea for parents to spend plenty of time riding along—whether during the learner’s permit process or even after your teen has gotten their license. The more your teen practices driving with you in the vehicle to provide tips and pointers, the more secure you can be that they’re driving safely once they’re alone. Make sure to practice in different conditions and at different times of day so your teen won’t be blindsided the first time they encounter rain, heavy wind, or snow and ice.

Earlier Curfews

Since teens (and all other drivers) are more likely to be involved in an accident at night, you may want to restrict your teen’s driving after 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., or even earlier during shorter winter days. Not only will this help keep your teen safe from accidents caused by their inexperience, but it may also keep them out of the way of impaired drivers. Nearly two of every three drivers involved in a single-vehicle crash after midnight is impaired, along with about half of all drivers involved in an accident between midnight and 3:00 a.m.

Fewer or No Passengers

Many states have driver’s license restrictions for teen drivers, limiting their ability to transport other teen passengers for the first few months after becoming licensed. And there’s a good reason for these laws—the more teen passengers in a vehicle with a teen driver, the higher the risk of an accident. Even something as simple as having a conversation with a passenger can take some of your teen’s attention away from the road.

Whether your state imposes passenger restrictions on teen drivers or not, you may want to impose your own household restrictions on passengers. This can ensure you’re satisfied with your teen’s driving skills before they begin taking responsibility for transporting others.

Mandatory Seat Belts

Requiring your teen to wear a seat belt every time they’re in a vehicle can go a long way toward keeping them safe. This includes parking lots, drive-thru restaurants, or even just circling the block—when a vehicle is in motion, they should be buckled in. Reinforce this requirement by making sure you wear your own seat belt at all times in a vehicle. If your teen sees you bending the rules, they may be more likely to do so themselves.

No Distractions

Distracted driving can be dangerous for everyone who engages in it—along with everyone else on the road. And teen drivers, who don’t have much experience driving even while not distracted, can be especially vulnerable to crashes caused by checking a text, doing makeup, or fiddling with touchscreen navigation. As a parent, you can require your teen to activate their phone’s “do not disturb” feature while driving to prevent them from receiving (or feeling they need to respond to) messages while their car is in motion.

No Aggressive or Impaired Driving

It likely goes without saying, but reckless, aggressive, or impaired driving can be incredibly dangerous for any driver—let alone someone who is still learning how to control a vehicle. Many insurance companies offer small GPS units that attach to your vehicle and provide a report of your teen’s driving habits—flagging things like too-quick acceleration, hard braking, turning without signaling, and other risk factors. This can give you the information you need to expand or restrict your teen’s driving privileges.

National Teen Driver Safety Week is the third week of October. There’s never a better time to review the rules of the road with your teen and ensure they have the tools needed to stay safe and legal on the road.