Young drivers are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than older, more experienced drivers, and no time is that more true than during the "100 Deadliest Days."
That's the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when school is out and teens are driving more. Between 2013 and 2017, nearly 3,500 people were killed in crashes involving a teen driver during the 100 Deadliest Days—a 17% increase compared to the rest of the year, according to data analyzed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The major contributors toward the number of fatal crashes are distraction, speeding, and drunken driving. A closer look at each factor reveals how dangerous they are, and what young motorists and their parents can do to make the roads safer for everyone.
AAA's research has found that:
of teen crashes studied as part of a AAA teen driving program involved potentially distracted behavior
of those teen crashes involved distraction from passengers
of those teen crashes involved distraction from cellphones
Distraction, especially from smartphones, is a well-known hazard behind the wheel—78% of drivers in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's most recent Traffic Safety Culture Index said it's "completely unacceptable" to type or send a text message or email while driving, as compared to 74% for driving after drinking alcohol. The consequences of driving while texting are the same as driving after drinking alcohol—deaths and injuries that are preventable. See why drivers who wouldn't drive intoxicated shouldn't drive intexticated either.
What parents and guardians can do: Stress the importance of focusing on the road and emphasize that all distractions, even seemingly benign ones like reaching for an object or looking at a roadside crash, can be dangerous.
Further convince your teen of the dangers of distracted driving by sharing the story of Deanna Mauer. Mauer was killed in 2011 after another driver rear-ended her stopped car at 85 mph. The driver of the other car, Jorene Nicolas, eventually pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter after 2 trials and nearly 4 years in jail. Court documents suggest Nicolas was so distracted by her cellphone that she didn't realize Mauer's car was stopped ahead.
"Living day to day with the knowledge of what I did and the pain I caused is unbearable," Nicolas told the court in 2015. Read more about the Deanna Mauer case.
AAA's research has found that:
of all motor vehicle deaths involving a teen driver were speed-related
1 in 10
of all motor vehicle speed-related deaths involved a teen driver
Driving above the speed limit carries risks for all motorists, but especially those with less experience. Some teen drivers purposefully speed for the thrill, but many others do it unintentionally because they haven't yet learned how to manage their speed based on the flow of traffic and the type of street or highway.
What parents and guardians can do: Guide teens when to make speed adjustments. For example, if approaching stopped traffic in the distance or transitioning from an arterial road to a side street, point out that it's a good opportunity to coast to a lower speed.
Drinking & driving
AAA's research has found that:
teen drivers involved in fatal crashes during the summer tested positive for alcohol
of drivers 16–18 say they've consumed alcohol at least once
of drivers age 16–18 say they've driven at least once in the past year when they thought their alcohol level might have been close to or over the legal limit
Despite the prevalence of underage drinking, teens don't have a markedly different attitude toward drunken driving than adults: 96% of teens age 16–18 agree that drunk driving is a somewhat or very serious threat, as compared with 94% of adults age 25–39.
What parents and guardians can do: Don't assume it's too early to discuss drinking and driving—the average teen has consumed alcohol by 14. Provide a framework for teens to guide their decision-making and behaviors when parents aren't around. More than 80% of teens say their parents are the leading influence in their decision about underage drinking.
RELATED: Underage drinking and driving remains a deadly combo
What parents can do
Have teens learn good habits in the classroom & in the car
For teens who don’t yet have their licenses, driving school is an important first step toward developing focus behind the wheel. To choose a quality driving school:
- Ask around. Check with friends and family about driving schools they’ve used.
- Call different schools. Ask about their operations, as well as references.
- Visit several schools. Sit in on a session; examine the vehicles and student materials; and ask how instructors are trained.
- Focus on quality. Don’t settle for driving schools that advertise quick or easy programs.
Outside the classroom, parents should set a good example; even teens who are already licensed pick up habits related to speeding and distractions from their parents.
RELATED: 10 simple habits to help make you a safer driver
Create a parent-teen driving agreement
Working out an agreement together is a chance for parents to explain the importance of driving at the appropriate speed, the appropriate time, and distraction-free, as well as to make driving privileges dependent on the teens’ commitment to safety. The signed agreement can be displayed at home as a daily reminder. Take a look at a sample agreement.
Stress that all distractions are dangerous
Even if teens have good cellphone habits and follow the law when it comes to passengers, anything that takes their eyes off the road can be dangerous. Parents should reinforce that changing songs or reaching for something in the back seat can also lead to a crash.
Set rules on teen passengers
In most states, thanks to Graduated Driver Licensing laws, there are legal limits on how many young passengers can ride with intermediate-level teen drivers. Parents should ensure that their teens know the law, verify that they are complying, and consider setting their own, more stringent rules.