Teen Drivers: Understanding the Risk Factors of Inexperienced and Distracted Driving

By | June 2, 2016

Teen drivers represent the largest demographic group responsible for hundreds of thousands of collisions and thousands of fatalities in the United States every year. Legislation exists in all U.S. states to help protect drivers by restricting high-risk driver-passenger ratios, driving after dark and on major highways, and other conditions that are known to increase risk for teens.  

How Big is the Problem for Teen Drivers?

Data collected in 2013 revealed that male drivers, aged 16 to 19 years, were involved in more motor vehicle fatalities than female drivers. In fact, the instances of fatalities for male drivers in that age group was almost double. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted one of North America’s largest video studies, which evaluated the factors leading to motor vehicle collisions where teen drivers were involved. In 2013 alone, 963,000 drivers aged 16-19 years were involved in automobile collisions, which resulted in 383,000 injuries and 2,865 fatalities.

In the independent study, data was reviewed by researchers at the University of Iowa, who reviewed video from the Ltyx DriveCam, an in-vehicle video recording device. The video footage obtained evaluated the precipitating factors leading up to the motor vehicle collision, up to six seconds before the impact or crash.

Multiple Riders in the Vehicle 

Approximately 15 percent of teen driver collisions are caused by distractions, including conversations with other passengers. Teen drivers statistically experienced a 44 percent increase in collision risk when riding with one or more passenger(s), who are also under the age of 21 years.  When young drivers are in the car with more than one passenger who is under the age of 21 (that is, two or more), researchers report that the risk of a collision doubles – rising to almost 90 percent. The statistics quadrupled when there were more than four passengers under the age of 21 in the vehicle.

No matter how well-trained a young driver is, according to Savannah Personal Injury Lawyer, having peers in the vehicle as passengers increases the odds of injury or fatalities. Driver inexperience is a factor, but so is the social behavior of teens with friends or peers, which impairs the driver’s ability to concentrate and focus on the safe operation of the vehicle. The study also suggested that increased risk-taking is common when friends are traveling together, including traveling at high speed, passing lanes, and sharing food or beverages while driving.

What happens when a teen driver has a passenger who is an adult, or over the age of thirty? The presence of an older adult in the vehicle has been reported to reduce the statistical risk of injury or fatal collisions by 62 percent. This proves that supervision and responsible driving practices are directly linked, and many states offer graduated licensing restrictions that prohibit young drivers from operating a vehicle without an adult, or with passengers under the age of 21, to address these risk factors.

Texting and Mobile Phone Use While Driving 

How many times have you driven behind a vehicle when the driver ahead of you is using his or her mobile phone? It is easy to tell on a highway, because drivers who are distracted by their mobile phones tend to be very visible, with an erratic driving style that involves lane drifting, sudden braking, and other hazards.

While much of the emphasis is on education regarding texting while driving, mobile phones can present a number of other life-threatening distractions. The use of apps for music, such as Pandora, can also create a significant and hazardous distraction, as teens look for their favorite songs while driving. Despite the fact that many vehicles are now equipped with mobile-friendly devices that allow for hands-free telephone calls, these vehicles are not always available to young drivers, who may have older model cars.

Distracted driving, and using a mobile phone device is a factor in 12 percent of collisions, where the driver is an American teen under the age of 21. However, looking for something in the vehicle (such as a ringing mobile phone), surfing music, or reading messages also account for 16 percent of motor vehicle collisions among young drivers.

Seat Belt Use 

You will be surprised to know that the primary factor causing injury in a crash or collision among teen drivers is due to not wearing seat belts. Seat belts can reduce the risk of death among front seat passengers by 45 percent. But, teens have a natural tendency to be bold and reckless. From speeding to feeling completely invincible, seat belts are not a priority for them. However, seat belt use can cut down road incidents by a huge margin, and reduce teen deaths massively. All states require teenage drivers to wear seat belts, and our roads will be much safer if this is followed.

According to data provided in 2013, in report titled “Injury Vulnerability and Effectiveness of Occupant Protection Technologies for Older Occupants and Women” by U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belt use is a factor in fatalities for motor vehicle collisions.  The report states that, in 2013, approximately 56 percent of collision injuries for drivers and passengers aged 13 to 30 years resulted in fatalities, as they were not wearing seat belts at the time of the collision.

Avoiding Graduated Licensing 

Another concern regarding teen drivers is a trend wherein fewer teens are getting their license at the age of 16. In The Huffington Post article, “Teens Pump the Brakes On Getting Their Driver’s Licenses,” the AAA revealed survey results that are surprising: Teens are less interested in driving.

When asked about acquiring a driver’s license, or why teens did not have one after the age of 16 years, the AAA survey revealed:

44 percent of teens did not have a car

39 percent of teens had alternative, reliable transportation with friends, family, or via public transit

36 percent felt that owning a vehicle was too expensive

35 percent of teens said it wasn’t a priority for them

Given the cost of operating a vehicle, including escalated insurance rates for young drivers, it is no wonder that many teens decide to find more affordable options. Data also suggests that in households with incomes of $20,000 per year or less, only 25 percent of teens got their license at the age of 18. In households where income was over $100,000 per annum, 79 percent of teens were licensed by the age of 18.
Consequently, with graduated licensing, teens feel that the restrictive rules greatly impact their enjoyment and freedom. However, graduating licensing conditions change at the age of 18, which means that many teens may be simply waiting until the age of 18+ to get their license for the first time – without the restrictions. That, unfortunately, will make them equally inexperienced, and will keep them at high risk for collisions and fatalities. Additional public education is required, at any age, to help them understand the link between high-risk driving practices and fatalities.

Author Bio

Willie Krall is an experienced attorney at Clarke Nash – Savannah Personal Injury Lawyer. He focuses on representing people who have suffered serious injuries or have lost their beloved ones due to negligence acts. He also specializes in serving clients who have suffered injuries through car accidents, truck wrecks and wrongful death cases.

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