Teens and Motor Vehicle Collisions: NHTSA Addresses Risks in Recent Study

young teen driver sits behind the wheel with an adult smiling in the passenger seat.

A New Study Says That Car Accidents are the Leading Cause of Death Among Teenagers

If you have a teenager at home who recently got a driver’s license, or even if you have a teen driver who has a year or two of experience behind the wheel, it is important to know that car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the U.S. each year. According to a recent study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported by ABC News, “car accidents are the number one cause of death for teens.”

What are the two most common reasons that teen car crashes happen? According to the report, inexperience behind the wheel and willingness to engage in risk-taking behaviors are the two most prominent causes of teen motor vehicle collisions. Even when teens understand the rules of the road and agree to follow them, certain driving tendencies tend to show up when a driver is inexperienced. For example, teen drivers frequently follow too closely behind other cars, or do not brake quickly enough. Inexperienced drivers also have more difficulty anticipating behaviors of other drivers on the road, which can result in collisions that a more experienced driver might have avoided.

 Yet inexperience is not the only reason that teen drivers are at high risk for a crash. Teenagers who are behind the wheel are also more likely to engage in risky and dangerous driving behaviors. For instance, texting while driving, or using a smartphone to talk or surf the internet, are common behaviors among teens. Any distractions behind the wheel can be dangerous, and smartphone usage can be particularly hazardous. As NHTSA emphasizes, sending a single text message takes an average of five seconds, and taking your eyes off the road for five seconds to send a text is the equivalent of “driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”

How can we take steps to prevent teen accidents? Parents and guardians should understand the risks and should encourage safe driving behaviors.

 Tips for Safer Teen Driving

Teen car accidents do not have to happen, and many collisions are preventable. The following are safety tips for teenage drivers from the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles:  

  • Always go the speed limit so that you will have time to react in an unexpected event;
  • Do not follow others too closely in case they come to a sudden stop;
  • Do not use your cell phone while driving; 
  • Avoid eating or drinking while driving;
  • Never drink alcohol and then drive; 
  • Plan ahead: look up directions before you start driving and familiarize yourself with your route ahead of time; 
  • Leave early so you will have plenty of time to get to your destination and will not be tempted to speed; and 
  • Use turn signals so that other drivers know what your next course of action is while driving

For parents and guardians that are teaching their teen how to drive: 

  • Set a good example that demonstrates safe driving behaviors for your teenager; 
  • Talk to your teen ahead of time about the importance of taking driving seriously, wearing a seatbelt correctly, and minimizing distractions in the vehicle so they can keep their eyes on the road; 
  • Make sure the vehicle your teenager is driving is well-maintained, and keep your vehicle well maintained as well; 
  • Start out slow and simple, in a low traffic area or a parking lot.
  • Work your way into more difficult driving.

For parents and guardians whose teenagers are already driving: 

  • Limit the number of passengers your teen can drive with;
  • Enforce a curfew so that your teenager will be home safely during nighttime, when you might not be awake or available to respond to an emergency; 
  • Gradually increase the amount of time you allow your teen to drive;
  • Gradually increase the distance you allow your teen to drive;
  • Let your teenager know that it is not appropriate to eat or drink while driving;
  • Enforce rules that prohibit your teenager from using a cell phone while driving;
  • Make sure they understand the importance of following the speed limits and other rules of the road;
  • Do not allow your teen to drink and drive. 
  • Ride with your teen occasionally to monitor his or her driving skills.

If your teen was involved in a crash, or if you were injured in a collision involving a teen driver, you should speak with a car accident attorney about your options.

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