Dangerous Drivers Among Us

By Teresa Ambord

Does it surprise you to learn that the group of people who are involved in most car accidents are teenagers? Probably not. According to one insurance agent, most teen drivers wreck at least one car within the first year of driving. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that though teenagers make up only 10 percent of the population, they account for 14 percent of auto crashes.

Here are some facts:

Not only are teens the group that have the most auto accidents, they are also the group that gets the most speeding tickets. Again, no surprise. Two out of five deaths among U.S. teens are the result of car crashes, according to a 2003 survey.

Some of the reasons why teens make up the group with the most accidents and, also, why they are the group that gets the most speeding tickets are probably obvious.

  • Teens are usually the least experienced drivers among us.
  • They are also the group least likely to recognize hazardous situations and the overall potential dangers involved in driving. Teens are, after all, invincible.
  • Teens are more likely to make illegal turns, drive too fast, run red lights, and drive while under the influence of substances.
  • Teens often drive with many friends in the car. Some states limit a teen's first driver's license so that, in the first six months after getting their license they can only drive with siblings in the car, not unrelated minors.
  • Teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use, according to studies by the Centers For Disease Control (CDC). In 2001, 14 percent of high school students surveyed stated that, when they rode with someone else, they rarely or never wore seat belts.
  • For boys, the percentage of those who seldom wear seat belts--18 percent--was higher than for girls--10 percent (2002 CDC survey).
  • African American students--16 percent--by their own admissions are also less likely to wear seat belts than white students--14 percent (2002 CDC survey).

There are steps parents can take to help increase the safety of their teenage drivers:

  • Driver education classes are not enough: as you are no doubt aware, the efforts of most schools to teach teenagers to drive have diminished considerably. Commercial driving schools teach basic driving, meet minimum requirements, and pass students onto the roads. New drivers need many, many hours of driving with someone who has a vested interest in their safety.
  • Night driving is more likely to result in accidents: 9 pm to midnight is the time when most nighttime fatal crashes occur for young drivers. Not only does nighttime driving require more skill, but since outings that occur that late are most likely recreational, there's a good chance distractions will occur.
  • Too many passengers create havoc:  the problem is obvious...distraction. Nearly two of three teen passenger deaths occur when there is a teenage driver. Even during daytime driving, the rate is high.
  • As the parent, you're a role model: like most people, teens learn by example. Studies show that most teenage bad drivers have parents who also have bad driving habits.
  • Practice, practice, practice: and then practice some more. Sure your teens will complain, but don't most of them complain all the time anyway? It is, after all, a matter of life and death.
  • Choose a safe car: don't listen to your teenager's pleas for a performance car or an otherwise cool, but less safe car. Go for safety. Small cars don't offer much surrounding protection in the event of an accident, and some bigger vehicles like trucks and SUVs may be prone to rolling.

Safe Cars

According to IIHS, the safest cars have these features:

  • Improved crumple zones.
  • Three-point seatbelts.
  • Improved front airbags.
  • Side airbags.