For years, the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States has been car crashes. But new data suggests the risk to teen drivers increases even more when they have passengers around their own age in the car.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that when a teen driver has teen passengers in the car, the fatality rate for everyone involved in a crash increased 51 percent. In contrast, when older passengers (35 or older) ride with a teen driver, overall fatality rates decrease by 8 percent.
“What this new study revealed is that when you add a teen passenger in the vehicle when you have a teen driver behind the wheel, you’re increasing your risk of a fatality by 51 percent,” AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Tiffany Wright said.
There were 46 fatalities and 6,154 injuries from a crash involving a teen driver in South Carolina last year, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
“It’s kind of scary when you think about that and I just think these alarming stats just to go show how much parents and role models need to do a better job of setting a better example behind the wheel,” Wright said.
Nationwide in 2016, teen drivers were involved in more than 1 million police-reported crashes resulting in more than 3,200 deaths. Researchers pinpointed that when teens were carrying teen passengers, fatality rates jumped:
-56 percent for occupants of other vehicles
-45 percent for the teen driver
-17 percent for pedestrians and cyclists
Wight said parents can make little changes that can make a big difference in keeping their teen drivers safe.
“Allow no more than one non-family passenger under the age of 20 to ride with that teen driver, maybe during the first six months of driving,” she said. “Practice with them. Practice driving with them in low-risk situations and gradually move up to situations that are a little more complex, we’re talking about highways, driving at night.”
Other suggestions offered by TeenDrivingAAA.com:
— Require teens to log at least 100 hours of supervised practice driving with a parent before driving solo.
— Use slightly different routes each practice session.
— Practice adjusting speed based on three factors: visibility, on-road traffic and different road conditions.
“We know that traffic fatalities are a big thing here in South Carolina. There are things that they can teach their teens,” Wright said. “There’s things that they can do before that teen driver gets behind the wheel that hopefully will instill good behaviors and good practices behind the wheel.”
October 21-27 is National Teen Driver Safety Week. MUSC Children’s Health and Safe Kids Charleston Area recommend the following top driving safety tips for teen drivers:
1. Talk to your teens about how to be safe while driving. Remind teens to follow traffic signals and laws, make eye contact with pedestrians and enter and exit driveways and alleys slowly and carefully.
2. Make a formal agreement with your teen and enforce it. A 2016 research report by Safe Kids Worldwide showed that formal parent-teen agreements regarding driving restrictions help reduce risky driving, traffic violations and crashes. Click here to download a sample agreement.
3. Let your actions speak as loud as your words. Kids are always watching, even when you think they’re not. So set a good example when kids and teens are in the car. If you buckle up, they are more likely to buckle up, and if you speed, they will speed.
4. Ensure your new teen driver gets at least 50 hours of experience under a variety of driving conditions. Having more experience behind the wheel helps new drivers manage driving in the dark and driving with other teen passengers in the car, situations that can increase the likelihood of crashes for young drivers.
5. Take action against distraction. Teach teen drivers to put cell phones and other distractions in the back seat or out of sight until their final destination.
6. Be alert around neighborhoods and schools. When driving, be especially alert in residential neighborhoods and school zones and be on the lookout for bikers, walkers or runners who may be distracted or may step into the street unexpectedly.
7. Watch out for pedestrians. Give pedestrians the right of way and look both ways when making a turn to help spot any bikers, walkers or runners who may not be immediately visible.