Driving as a teen is exhilarating. After years of being driven around, it’s finally your turn to take the wheel and be in charge of where you want to go and when. This independence is incredible for new drivers — but it also comes with serious responsibility.
While teen driving is the most exciting time to be behind the wheel, it’s also the most dangerous. Motor vehicle accidents are more fatal for 15 to 20 year olds than any other cause of death. Driver inexperience is often to blame.
As a new teen driver, it is your responsibility to know just how dangerous it is to drive — and take heed in developing safe driving habits. In this guide, you’ll learn important facts about teen drivers, why teen drivers are so at risk of injury and death in motor vehicle crashes, and of course, what you can do as a teen driver to make your driving experience safer for yourself and everyone on the road.
Teen Driving Facts
Just how dangerous is it for teen drivers on the road? These facts share how many teens die in motor vehicle crashes each year, their disproportionate amount of accidents, and the increased crash risks faced by teen drivers.
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15 to 20 year olds. (III)
- More than half of teens who die in car crashes are passengers. Most are not wearing a seat belt. (III)
- Each year, more than 2,000 teens ages 16 to 19 are killed in motor vehicle accidents (CDC)
- Nearly 250,000 teens between 16 and 19 are treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle accident injuries (CDC)
- Though young adults ages 15 to 24 represent only 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for about 30 percent of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries (CDC)
- Teens between 16 and 19 are more at risk of motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. They are three times more likely than drivers 20 or older to experience a fatal crash (CDC)
- Males are especially at risk for motor vehicle death with a rate nearly two times that of females (CDC)
- Teen passengers increase the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers and the risk increases with a greater number of teen passengers (CDC)
- Teen crash risk is especially high during the first few months of licensure (CDC)
- Night and weekend driving is particularly dangerous for teen drivers. More than half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occur between 3 p.m. and midnight and on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. (CDC)
- A teen driver’s risk of being killed in a car crash increases when there are passengers under 21 in the vehicle. It increases by 44 percent with one passenger under 21, doubles with two, and quadruples with three or more. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety)
- A teen driver’s risk of being killed in a car accident decreases by 62 percent when an adult 35 or older is in the vehicle. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety)
- Nearly 70 percent of teens admit to talking on a cell phone while driving and more than 50 percent of teens read text messages or emails while driving. (AAA Teen Driving)
- 94 percent of drivers ages 17 to 26 keep their phones on while driving and 80 percent see themselves as safer than average drivers who don’t believe distracted driving puts them at risk. (AAA Teen Driving)
- Six teens are killed in a motor vehicle crash in the United States every day. (Safe Kids)
Why Teen Drivers are at Risk
What makes it so dangerous to be a teenage driver? Even if you feel you’re a responsible teen driver, you’re at risk. According to the CDC, there are a number of factors that make teen drivers especially prone to accidents. These risk factors include:
- Teens often underestimate dangerous situations or may not be able to recognize hazardous situations.
- Teens are more likely to speed than older drivers.
- Teens are more likely to leave less distance in between vehicles.
- Teens may speed and drive impaired. In male drivers between 15 and 20 who were involved in fatal crashes, 35 percent were speeding and 25 percent had been drinking at the time of the crash.
- Teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use with only 55 percent of high school students reporting that they always wear seat belts.
- The risk of a motor vehicle crash is greater for teens than older drivers at all levels of blood alcohol concentration.
- Teens may make poor safety choices when impaired. 22 percent of teens report riding with an alcohol impaired driver and 10 percent drove after drinking alcohol. 71 percent of drivers between 15 to 20 killed in motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol were not wearing a seat belt.
- The greatest risk factors for teen drivers are driver inexperience, driving with teen passengers, nighttime driving, not using seat belts, distracted driving, drowsy driving, reckless driving, and impaired driving.
Teen Driving Safety Tips
Don’t become a statistic. Beat the odds and practice safe driving as a new teen driver. You’ll be safer and make the roads you’re on safer for other drivers as well. With these tips, you can become a safer, more defensive driver every day.
- Drive a safe vehicle: Teens often get saddled with an old hand me down that’s less than reliable and may not have the latest safety features. And given the choice, most teens would opt for a flashy sports car rather than a sensible sedan with high safety ratings. But for safety’s sake, it’s important to choose a car that’s safer than most, as teens are more likely to get into accidents than more experienced drivers and they need the extra protection. Even if you’re shopping for an older vehicle without the latest safety features, you should choose one with good safety ratings and reliability. Performance vehicles, vehicles prone to rollovers, and very small cars should be avoided for teens.
- Never drive impaired: Teens may be experimenting with drugs and alcohol. But impairment and driving should never mix. Drunk or drug impaired driving can be deadly and should always be avoided, whether you’re driving or a passenger. Never drive impaired and don’t ride with anyone else who is, either. Teens should always have a plan for alternate transportation, such as a sober friend, taxi, Uber, or even family members.
- Avoid distracted driving at all times: Listening to the radio, texting, even chatting with friends in the back seat sound like innocuous teen driving habits, but the truth is that they can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Distracted driving habits take precious attention away from the most important task — driving — and can cause serious accidents. Teens should avoid texting, talking on the phone, and using mobile devices to listen to music in the car. Experts suggest that new drivers should avoid picking up potentially distracting teen passengers until they’ve logged at least 1,000 miles or driven for six months. This allows new drivers to establish good driving skills and habits before introducing a potentially serious distraction.
- Enroll in a qualified driver education course: Many states require teen drivers to enroll in and complete a new driver education course before earning a driver’s license. But even if it’s not a requirement, this is an important step of safe driving that shouldn’t be skipped. A teen driver course offers instruction in safe driving concepts including defensive driving, accident avoidance, and driver responsibility and attitudes. Plus, a driver education course will offer time behind the wheel with a qualified instructor who can introduce good driving habits while sharing guidance for challenging driving situations.
- Get lots of practice driving: Before setting out on your own, you should spend plenty of time working on your driving skills in all driving situations. Experts recommend at least 50 hours of driving practice with an experienced driver before driving independently.
- Wear a seat belt at all times: Seat belts save lives, but only if you’re wearing them. As a teen driver, you may be tempted to skip wearing a seat belt, especially if you’re unsupervised and driving on your own — or if your friends aren’t wearing seat belts. But your life could depend on wearing a seat belt, so you should always buckle up any time you’re in a car. And as a driver, it’s important that you insist all passengers buckle up as well. Remember that even if you’re buckled up safely, an unbuckled passenger can become a deadly projectile if you end up in a car crash. Seat belts reduce serious crash related injuries and deaths by about half, but 56 percent of teens who die in passenger vehicle crashes are not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
- Follow traffic laws and regulations; observe and obey road signs: As a new driver, you may not know every law concerning driving in your state. But it’s important that you do your best. A good driver education course will cover important driving laws and regulations, so you should have a fresh understanding of them. Always follow the rules of the road, especially stopping at stop signs and red lights, giving right of way to pedestrians and bicyclists, and using turn signals. Be sure to pay attention to and follow road signs, including yield signs, speed limit signs, and merge signs.
- Practice difficult driving situations: When you’re just starting out, you might want to stick to desolate parking lots and back roads to get your bearings. But that won’t do a lot to prepare you for the everyday realities of driving. While you’re still learning with an instructor, parent, or other teacher, be sure to get more advanced driving practice in. Drive on the freeway, get into rush hour traffic, navigate busy intersections, drive in the rain or snow, and more. Save the parking lot for practicing obstacle avoidance and skids in a safe, controlled environment. These situations may be nerve wracking, but it’s better to learn how to deal with them while you have helpful guidance than it is to react to them in real traffic situations without any practice.
- Practice extra caution in adverse weather conditions: Rain, fog, ice, snow, even a sunny glare can make driving more difficult — and dangerous. It’s important to practice driving in these conditions and be extra careful on the road when they’re present. In inclement weather, you should slow down, turn on your headlights, and be ready to stop slowly but suddenly at any moment. It’s a good idea to safely practice recovering from a skid.
- Establish good driving skills before driving at night: Nighttime is the most dangerous time for new drivers. Not only are drunk drivers more likely to be on the road, it’s simply more difficult to see hazards at night. And you may be sleepy, slowing your reaction times. Before you drive at night, be sure you’re completely comfortable driving in the day time hours. Consider making your first several nighttime driving trips brief until you can feel comfortable driving at night.
- Take extra care at intersections: Many accidents occur at intersections, especially when drivers run red lights. Before you enter an intersection as the first or even second or third vehicle in line, be sure to look both ways to make sure cross traffic has actually stopped. This will help you avoid accidents with red light runners who are still speeding through the intersection when your light is green.
- Don’t mess with 18 wheelers: 18 wheelers are large, extremely heavy, and unable to stop quickly. They also suffer from limited visibility. Be sure to stay out of blind spots on the sides and behind 18 wheelers. It’s also very important not to cut off 18 wheelers, as they may not be able to stop in time to avoid hitting you from behind.
- Keep your emotions in check: It’s easy to get frustrated and emotional while driving, especially in traffic or when other drivers are behaving recklessly or rude. But your safety depends on keeping a cool head. Calm down, let it go, and move on from frustrating traffic interactions so that you can avoid graduating your frustration into dangerous road rage.
- Don’t worry too much about making other drivers happy: You may feel pressured by other drivers to drive faster than you’re comfortable doing, get through intersections more quickly, or even run red lights to they can make it through behind you. But you should remember that no one is responsible for your driving but you. Tailgaters will eventually move around and others behind you can simply wait. Safe driving is your responsibility and you should always do what’s safest for you and your passengers — not cater to other drivers.
- But remember to be a polite driver: While you need to look out for your own safety, you should practice courtesy on the road. Yield right of way when appropriate, leave extra space between vehicles, and generally watch out for the safety of other drivers.
- Pull over if you’re drowsy: For your safety, it’s important that you never drive while drowsy. Drowsy driving can be just as deadly as drunk driving and teens are particularly at risk for dangerous drowsy driving accidents. If you’re feeling tired, pull over to exercise or stimulate your senses to perk up. Or if you’re just too sleepy to drive safely, simply take a quick nap before continuing down the road. Plan ahead as well — keep in mind that if you’re driving home late at night, you may be sleepy, and it might be best to stay where you are if possible.
- Never tailgate: Tailgating isn’t just rude, it’s dangerous. Following another driver too closely cuts down on the space you have to react to sudden stops and hazards. If you’re following closely and the driver in front of you slams on their brakes, you could easily rear end them and potentially cause a serious accident. Always leave two car lengths in between you and the vehicle in front of you, more if there is inclement weather.
- Maintain a safe speed: Speed kills, there’s no way around it. You might be in a rush to get somewhere, but arriving a few minutes earlier than you might have otherwise is absolutely not worth your life or the lives of others. Observe posted speed limits or simply go with the flow. Driving faster than the flow of traffic not only sets you up for a traffic ticket, it makes every second you spend on the road more dangerous and potentially deadly.
- Avoid aggressive drivers: Aggressive drivers and drivers with road rage are just bad news. They may tailgate you, flash their lights, even make rude gestures or threaten you. When aggression becomes road rage, it can be very dangerous. Aggressive drivers are bullies of the road and it’s best to simply give them a wide berth. Their dangerous driving tactics will put you and every driver around you at risk, so be sure to stay clear and let them simply drive ahead of you.
- Assume the worst from other drivers: Never assume another driver is going to stop in time or allow you to merge — because some day, they might now. You should always assume other drivers will run red lights or stop signs. And it’s your job to be prepared to avoid an accident if they really don’t stop. Always anticipate the worst when moving through traffic.
- Keep your focus on the road: Even if you’re not texting while driving, your focus can drift. Thinking about school, relationships, stress, and more can distract you from the most important task at hand: driving. Pay attention to the drivers around you and always look ahead for hazardous situations. Let your mind and attention drift, and you could miss spotting a danger before it’s too late to avoid it.
- Enroll in a safe driver program: May insurance companies offer a safe driver program, some specifically geared toward teens. You’ll typically sign a contract with your parents outlining your responsibilities and consequences for failure. You may qualify for a discount on your insurance premiums if you complete the program. Some insurance companies also offer discounts for monitoring devices that track how well teens drive and alert parents to unsafe driving practices.
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