In Maine, young people between 15 and 24 years of age represent only 12.5% of the driving population, but are involved in 25% of all fatal traffic crashes. Trauma is the leading cause of death among teens in the United States (>35% of the total) and car crashes are far and away the most common trauma. Equally important, fatal crashes represent only a small percentage of the total crashes involving teens, many of which result in severe injury and disability. Of note, the risk increases quite dramatically with younger drivers: 16 year olds are more than 20 times more likely to have a motor vehicle crash than other drivers.
There are 2 main reasons why teens are at higher risks of being in a car crash: lack of driving experience and their tendency to take risks while driving.
Lack of Experience: Teens drive faster and do not control the car as well as more experienced drivers. Their judgment in traffic is often insufficient to avoid a crash. In addition, teens do most of their driving at night, which can be even more difficult.
Risk Taking: Teen drivers are more likely to be influenced by peers and other stresses and distractions. This can lead to reckless driving behaviors such as speeding and not wearing safety belts.
Recent studies have revealed some additional interesting findings about the risks associated with teenage driving:
the risk of fatal crashes among teens increases incrementally for 16- and 17-year-old drivers with 1, 2, or 3 or more passengers
teen driver death rates are nearly 3 times greater per trip between 10 pm and midnight compared with 6 am and 10 pm
teenaged drivers are more likely to die in crashes when carrying passengers aged 20-29 than when driving alone
alcohol use in crashes is relatively uncommon for teens compared with older drivers: for 21-29 year olds, 28% of fatal crashes involve alcohol, for 17 year olds, 14%, and for 16 year olds, 5%.
This data suggests that, although much of our efforts are aimed at drinking-and-driving in this age group, the contribution of alcohol pales in comparison to inexperience, impulsiveness, poor judgment, and distraction by passengers.
What can parents do?
There are several steps you an take to help make driving a safer experience for your teens.
Understand the Maine Graduated Driver License System (Maine driver licensing) that allow teens more responsibility in stages. As they move through each stage they gain confidence and experience that can help make them safer drivers.
Establish and discuss "house rules" about driving even before your teen gets a license. Remind your teen that these rules are in place because you care about his or her safety.
Think about a Driving Contract for new drivers and their parents. The Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles offers a sample contract for parents of teen drivers to consider. (New Driver Contract)
Require that your teen maintain good grades in school before he or she can drive. Check with your auto insurance company to see if any "good student" discounts are available.
Set a good driving example (no use of alcohol or other drugs, no speeding, always wear your safety belt, and require that safety belts be worn by all passengers).
Let your teen know that driving after drinking or using other drugs will not be tolerated. Tell your teen to always call you or someone else for a ride any time he or she or any other driver has been drinking or using drugs. Let your teen know that you will pick him or her up. However, if you find he or she was drinking, it may be better to wait until the next day before you discuss the incident.
Support efforts to protect teens. These might include "safe ride" programs, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), or school programs promoting teen safety. Encourage alcohol-free community events.
Remind your teen how important it is to stay focused on driving, not getting distracted by excessively loud music or talking on a cellular phone.
Driving is a privilege and a big responsibility. Teen drivers, because of their age and inexperience, are at a higher risk for car crashes. Various licensing and school programs, along with support and encouragement from parents, provide the best way to help teens learn to become responsible drivers.