How to Prevent Teen Car Accidents

Jun 22, 2020 | COVID-19

It is wonderful to watch our children grow up. But as every parent knows, it’s not so wonderful to watch them as they start to drive.

As parents, we know intuitively that our kids are not yet great drivers. Part of the reason is that they aren’t always paying attention when they’re supposed to be and they’re not always going to do what we’ve taught them to do to stay safe.

Under normal circumstances, this can be frustrating. But it’s downright terrifying when we think of our young drivers out on the road where disaster can occur in an instant when a driver is texting or checking social media instead of watching the road.

Nearly 7 young drivers are killed every day in car crashes. This age group is 3 times as likely to be involved in a car crash as older drivers. The main causes are distracted driving, driver inexperience, speeding, alcohol, and nighttime driving. Parents play a key role in prevention.

Accident statistics

Here are the numbers about auto accidents involving drivers between the ages of 15 and 19:

  • “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.” (CDC)
  • Nearly 7 teen drivers were killed every day in car crashes in the U.S. in 2017. (NHTSA– Teens and Distracted Driving: 2,526 teen drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 were “killed in all crashes in 2017”)
  • Teen drivers “aged 16–19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash,” based on miles driven. (CDC)
  • “Eight percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2017 were [young drivers between] 15 to 20 years old.” (NHTSA – Young Drivers)
  • “There were 4,361 young drivers [between “15 to 20 years old”] involved in fatal crashes in 2017.” (NHTSA – Young Drivers) Notably, 3,255 drivers between the ages of 15 to 19 were “involved in fatal crashes in 2017.” (NHTSA – Teens and Distracted Driving)
  • There were 2,526 teen drivers (between the ages of 15 and 19) “killed in all crashes in 2017.” (NHTSA – Teens and Distracted Driving)
  • There were 3,542 people “killed in crashes involving” teen drivers in 2017. (NHTSA – Teens and Distracted Driving)

(Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Crash and Injury Risks for Teen Drivers,” (“Page last reviewed: October 29, 2019”); NHTSA – Teen Distracted Driving Data page, “Teens and Distracted Driving – 2017” (published February 2019); NHTSA – Traffic Safety Facts – “Young Drivers” – “2017 Data” (Published May 2019))

What percentage of car accidents are caused by young drivers?

We do not know exactly what proportion of car accidents are caused by young drivers. But we do know that they are 3 times more likely to be in a car accident than other drivers and that 8% of all the auto accidents in the U.S. involve this age group.

What are the causes?

The causes of these car accidents will not surprise you. They include:

  1. Driver inexperience:– This is the leading cause of crashes and injuries. It is reported that young drivers’ risk of being involved in a car crash is highest during their first year behind the wheel. (CDC)
  2. Distracted driving– Science has shown that drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to crash than non-texting drivers. Additionally, NHTSA has reported that 9% “of all teen motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2017 involved distracted driving” and 8% “of teen (15-19) drivers who were involved in fatal crashes in 2017 were distracted at the time of the crashes.” (NHTSA – Teens and Distracted Driving)
  3. Speeding– The CDC reports that young drivers “are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next).” (CDC, “Teen Drivers: Get the Facts”) Additionally, according to NHTSA young drivers, male and female, were speeding at the time of the fatal crashes more than the other age groups.” (NHTSA – Young Drivers)
  4. Drunk driving– “Twenty-four percent of the young drivers 15 to 20 years old who were killed in crashes [in 2017] had BACs of .01 g/dL or higher” and “20 percent had BACs of .08 g/dL or higher,” which exceeds “the legal driving limit for those legally permitted to consume alcohol.” (NHTSA – Young Drivers)
  5.  Operating a vehicle with teen passengers– The risk for car accidents increase significantly when young drivers are operating a vehicle with other passengers in the car.
  6.  Nighttime driving– Although fatal crashes are more likely to occur at night for drivers of all ages, the risk for teen car accidents is even higher for young drivers. (CDC) In fact, “40% of motor vehicle crash deaths among teen drivers and passengers aged 13-19 occurred between 9 pm and 6 am” in 2017. (CDC, “Teen Drivers: Get the Facts”)
  7. Not using seat belts– In 2017, “[o]f the young drivers killed with known restraint use, 47 percent were unrestrained at the time of the crashes.” (NHTSA – Young Drivers) Additionally, in 2017, “the use of seat belts in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,955 lives of occupants 5 and older. . . . An additional 2,549 lives could have been saved in 2017 if all unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants 5 and older involved in fatal crashes had worn their seat belts.” (NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, Crash and Stats, “Lives Saved in 2017 by Restraint Use and Minimum-Drinking-Age Laws,” March 2019)

(Source: CDC (see above); NHTSA – Young Drivers; NHTSA – Teens and Distracted Driving)

5 ways to prevent car accident

Parents can help to play a pivotal role in helping their young drivers stay safe and to prevent these types of car accidents:

  1.   Make wearing a seat belt mandatory. Whether your childis a driver or a passenger (in either the front or back seat), make them buckle up. Safety belts are the most effective safety device in the car. Everyone should be buckled up at all times. NHTSA data shows wearing a safety belt can reduce the risk of crash injuries by about 50 percent. There are now car models that have apps that can send alerts to parents when a child is not wearing a seat belt or is speeding.
  2.   To prevent car accidents eliminate all existing and potential distractions for your children. Driving distractions may include: using electronic devices and cell phones to text, talking, play video games, engage on social media, look at pictures, watch videos; using GPS or navigational devices or cell phone apps; grooming; adjusting the radio – changing the channel, changing CDs, adjusting an iPod; talking to other occupants and passengers; eating and drinking; adjusting vehicle controls – heat/air conditioning, tilt of steering wheel, mirrors, seat position, dash light; reading; smoking (an unwise and unhealthy choice anywhere); pets within the passenger compartment; reaching for objects within the passenger compartment; distractions outside of the vehicle such another driver getting a ticket, a car accident, road construction or people walking or riding bikes.
  3.   To further prevent car accidents impress on your young driver that he or she should not drink alcohol and that he or she should NEVER get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or get in a vehicle being operated by someone (adult or child) who has consumed alcohol. Remember, the main problem with many young drivers is using good judgment. That’s why they often make poor safety decisions, such as speeding. Alcohol will only make this problem worse, as well as slow perception/reaction time and further impair judgment.
  4.   Follow your state’s Graduated Driver Licensing law for teen drivers, especially the requirements for the on-the-road supervised practice as well as the restrictions on when they are not permitted to drive (between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am) and with whom (i.e., not “more than 1 passenger in the vehicle who is less than 21 years of age”).  Don’t let your child take to the road until he or she has demonstrated a clear command of the skills to drive safely and responsibly and a full understanding of the responsibility that he or she is assuming.
  5.   Never speed! NHTSA reports: “Young male drivers were the most likely to be speeding at the time of fatal crashes. In 2017 nearly one-third (31%) of male drivers in the 15- to 20-year-old age group involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crashes, compared to 18 percent for the female drivers in the same age group.” (NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts – 2017 Data, “Speeding,” May 2019)

There’s a reason that teen car accidents are the leading cause of death for this age group, but parents can learn how to help their children stay safe and prevent car crashes during this transitional time in their lives.

Author Bio

As head of Michigan Auto Law, auto accident lawyer Steven M. Gursten focuses his law practice on serious motor vehicle accident injury and wrongful death cases.

He is the current President of the Distracted Driving Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice and regularly visits high schools to lecture about youth auto safety and distracted driving.

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