February 27, 2013
By Korrena Bailie, InsWeb.com
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers. In fact, 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any age, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Institute.
And it’s not getting better. A February 2013 report from the Governors Highway Safety Association revealed that driver deaths among 16- and 17-year-olds rose 19 percent in the first six months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011.
The state-by-state report also revealed that some states saw the number of teen driver deaths jump significantly. In the first six months of 2011, three teen drivers died in Indiana. In the same time period in 2012, 16 teen drivers died. In Tennessee, 16 teen drivers died in the first six months of 2012, up from 10 during the same time period in 2011.
In all, 240 16- and 17-year-olds died in car crashes in the first half of 2012, compared with 202 the previous year.
Allan Williams, a researcher for the report, says in a statement: “We are still at a much better place than we were 10 or even five years earlier. However, the goal is to strive toward zero deaths, so our aim would be that these deaths should go down every year.”
So why has the death toll for teen drivers gone up? And will this trend continue?
Improving economy = more teen drivers
Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, has some theories about why the number of teen driver deaths climbed so much in the first half of 2012.
One reason? The improving economy may have led to more teens on the road. “More teens means greater exposure to risk,” she says.
Another factor could be distracted driving. If a driver texts behind the wheel, he or she is 23 times more likely to get into a crash, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. And teens tend to be avid texters. A 2010 Pew Research Center survey found that about 50 percent of teenagers send a minimum of 50 text messages a day, and some send up to 100 text messages.
“Most teens are used to keeping in touch electronically at all times,” Harsha says, and it’s tough for teens to break that habit when they’re behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, there’s more bad news. Harsha expects the numbers to show a rise in deaths for teen drivers in the second half of 2012. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s preliminary statistics for the first nine months of 2012 show an overall increase in traffic deaths. “We expect that the teen driver deaths will follow this same pattern,” Harsha says.
What can parents do?
Parents can have a big effect on their teens’ driving and can help keep them safe on the roads following these tips.
1. Enforce your state’s graduated driver’s licensing laws.
Graduated driver’s licensing laws, which are in place in most states, restrict novice drivers from partaking in certain behaviors, such as nighttime driving and carrying many passengers in a car. “Parents need to understand – and enforce – their state’s graduated driver’s license law,” Harsha says.
For more information visit, the website of Harsha’s group.
2. Consider a parent-teen contract.
Sit down with your teen and draw up an agreement spelling out rules that your teen must obey when driving, such as keeping both hands on the wheel or never using a cellphone while driving. You can draw up your own contract or use a template, such as the one on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
3. Lead by example.
While learning to drive, teens are impressionable and are likely to pick up driving habits – both good and bad – from their parents.
“It’s essential that parents model the behavior that they want to see in their teen,” Harsha says. This includes driving at a safe speed and not talking or texting on your cellphone.