97 Teenage Drivers

Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French

Driving gives teens a sense of freedom and independence from their parents. It can also free up time for parents as they are not shuttling teens to and from school, activities, or work. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2014, young drivers (15- to 20-year-olds) accounted for 5.5 percent (11.7 million) of the total number of drivers (214 million) in the US (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2016). However, almost 9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes that year were young drivers (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2016), and according to the National Center for Health Statistics (2014), motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, as they note: “In all motorized jurisdictions around the world, young, inexperienced drivers have much higher crash rates than older, more experienced drivers” (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2016, p. 1).

The rate of fatal crashes is higher for young males than for young females, although for both genders the rate was highest for 15- to 20-year-olds. For young males, the rate for fatal crashes was approximately 46 per 100,000 drivers, compared to 20 per 100,000 drivers for young females. The NHTSA reported that, of the young drivers who were killed and who had alcohol in their system, 81 percent had a blood alcohol count past what was considered the legal limit (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2016). Fatal crashes involving alcohol use were higher among young men than young women. The NHTSA also found that teens were less likely to use seat belt restraints if they were driving under the influence of alcohol, and that restraint use decreased as the level of alcohol intoxication increased.

A young man in a car
Figure 6.16: Teen driving

In an AAA study of non-fatal but moderate to severe motor vehicle accidents in 2014, more than half involved young male drivers aged sixteen to nineteen (Carney, McGehee, Harland, Weiss, and Raby, 2015). In 36 percent of rear-end collisions, teen drivers were following cars too closely to be able to stop in time, and in single-vehicle accidents, driving too fast for weather and road conditions was a factor in 79 percent of crashes involving teens. Distraction was also a factor in nearly 60 percent of the accidents involving teen drivers. Fellow passengers, often also teenagers (84 percent of the time), and cell phones were the top two sources of distraction, respectively. This data suggests that having another teenager in the car increased the risk of an accident by 44 percent (Carney et al., 2015). According to the NHTSA, 10 percent of drivers aged fifteen to nineteen involved in fatal crashes were reported to be distracted at the time of the crash, the highest figure for any age group (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2016). Distraction coupled with inexperience has been found to greatly increase the risk of an accident (Klauer et al., 2014).

The NHTSA did find that the number of accidents has been on a decline since 2005. They attribute this to greater driver training, more social awareness to the challenges of driving for teenagers, and to changes in laws restricting the drinking age. The NHTSA estimates that the raising of the legal drinking age to twenty-one in all fifty states and the District of Columbia has saved 30,323 lives since 1975.

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Teenage Drivers Copyright © 2022 by Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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