Keeping teen drivers safe

After a very informative visit to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Virginia, I brought back important safety information from the institution on ways to keep beginning teen drivers as safe as possible. Getting a driver’s license is an important milestone for teens and their parents, but it carries risks. During their first months of driving, teens have a particular high risk of crashing, mainly because of inexperience and immaturity. The IIHS lists the following contributing factors that are characteristic of teen driver crashes, and are typically different than for adult drivers:

-Driver error: Because of teen driver inexperience, driver error is common.

-Speeding: Excessive speed is a factor in about a third of teens’ fatal crashes.

-Single-vehicle crashes: Many fatal crashes involve only the teen’s vehicle in a typically high-speed crash in which the teenage driver loses control.

-Passengers: Teens’ fatal crashes are more likely to occur when young passengers are riding with them. The risk increases with the addition of every passenger.

-Alcohol: Teens are less likely than adults to drive after drinking alcohol, but their crash risk is substantially higher when they do.

Night driving: per mile driven, the fatal crash rate of 16 to 19 year-olds is about four times as high at night as it is during the day.

Low safety belt use -?most teens killed in crashes aren’t using their safety belts.

I would like to take the liberty to add another to the above list, and that is driver distraction. Today’s teens are married to their smart phones, and are extremely good at multi-tasking. Thus, they have a propensity for texting and talking on their smart phones, even while driving. This, coupled with their inexperience and immaturity, are contributing factors to the high rate of teen crashes.

Graduated licensing can help

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens, accounting for nearly a third of all deaths of 16- to 19-year-olds. Graduated licensing laws help to reduce this toll by slowly introducing teens to more complex driving tasks as they mature and gain skills. Driving privileges are phased in to restrict beginners’ initial experience behind the wheel and lower risk situations. As teens gain experience the restrictions are gradually lifted, so teens are more experienced and mature when they get their full, unrestricted licenses.

The toughest graduated licensing provisions in the US are a minimum permit age of 16, at least 65 hours of supervised practice driving during the learner stage, a minimum intermediate license age of 17 and during the intermediate stage, a night driving restriction starting at 8 p.m. and a ban on driving with other teens in the vehicle. No state currently has all of them. New York does pretty well, but we could do better. We only require 50 hours of supervised practice, we allow intermediate licensure at 16 1/2 years old, we don’t restrict night driving until 9 p.m., and we allow one other teen in the vehicle (other than immediate family). Obviously there is room for improvement.

Next week’s article on traffic safety will be a continuation on keeping teen drivers safe but will concentrate on what parents can do to increase the safety of their teen driver.

For more information on these two organizations, go to for the IIHS and find a link to the HLDI. For more articles on Vehicle and Traffic Law and traffic safety, visit the Traffic Safety Board’s website at