Amy Movius MD
Only about 6% of all drivers are teenagers, but they are involved in 14% of all fatal car accidents. In fact, motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) are the leading cause of death among 16 to 20 year olds; about 5,500/yr. In addition, close to a half a million teenagers are injured in MVAs.
Kids 16-19 yrs are 2X as likely to be in an accident as 20-24 yr olds, 3X as likely as 25-29 yr olds; 4X as likely as 30-69 yr olds. Younger teenagers are even more likely to be in MVAs than older teenagers. For instance, a 16yr old is about twice as likely to be in an accident than a 17yr old. Many factors contribute to these alarming statistics.
INEXPERIENCE is a huge factor in teenage MVAs. Traditional driver’s education programs require only 6 hours of behind the wheel time. The highest crash rate among teenagers occurs in the first 1 month after having a drivers license. Novice drivers simply aren’t as good at spotting hazards and controlling vehicles. Fortunately, the crash rate does go down quickly over the next 5 months, presumably as experience increases.
RISK TAKING is part of normal adolescent development and includes taking chances and overestimation of one’s abilities. These behaviors are often encouraged by peer pressure as well as reckless driving seen in movies and other media. Not wearing a seatbelt falls under this as well.
TEEN PASSENGERS in the car greatly increased the chance of being in an MVA. It goes up by 40% for 1, 100% for 2, and 400% for 3 or more teen passengers in a car. The most dangerous way for a teen to get to or from school is in a car driven by another teen!
NIGHT DRIVING has a higher crash rate for teens than any other age. Many states (including ME) restrict driving after midnight. However, 58% of fatal MVAs occur between 9pm and midnight.
SUBSTANCE USE may seem like an obvious contributor to teen driving accidents. However, fewer teens drink and drive than adults. However, teens are more likely to crash when they do, even at low blood alcohol levels. Besides the obvious risk of driving when under the influence of alcohol and recreational drugs, it’s important to know that many prescription or over the counter medications, such as benadryl, can significantly impair driving ability.
THE CARS TEENS DRIVE tend to be older and smaller. Thus they have fewer safety features and less protection in event of an accident.
DISTRACTIONS such as eating, drinking, adjusting the radio and climate control have all been associated with increased teen accidents, and all more than cell phone use.
Fortunately, the state of Maine has laws and rules that help to reduce the risk of teenage driving accidents.
A 15 yr old may apply for a drivers permit after completing an approved drivers education program, passing a written permit exam as well as an eye exam
The education program must be approved by the Bueau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) and include 30 hrs of classroom instruction and 10 hours behind the wheel before being eligible to test for a drivers license. Parents have to be present in the car (in the backseat) for some of the behind the wheel time instruction time.
You must be 16 yrs old and have had a permit for at least 6 months before applying for a drivers license.
For the first 6 months after getting a drivers license, a teenager may not drive with any passengers other than immediate family unless there is an experienced (>2yrs) licensed driver in the front seat.
No persons under 18 may drive from midnight to 5 am.
It is illegal for anyone under 18 to use a cell phone while driving.
Anyone 21yrs or less is on provisional status for 2 years, meaning there will be a minimum 30 day suspension of their license for any moving violation.
As always, there is no law that can substitute for parental and family support and guidance. Parents need to communicate clearly the personal, legal and financial responsibilities that come with driving. Also, teens should only drive vehicles that are reliable and safe. Setting a good example in driving habits and always wearing a seatbelt are invaluable. Lastly, both the AAP and the Maine BMV suggest having your teen sign a driving contract in which your teens autonomy and responsibility will increase in stages over time if followed. There are excellent examples or these and much more information on the following website.
www.aap.org The Teen Driver. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement 2006