Rates of Crash Fatalities for Teens are Down but Inexperience and Distraction Cause Most Accidents

Hamilton, NJ – During National Teen Driver Safety Week, (October 18 – 24) and throughout the year, it’s important that teen drivers and their parents/guardians understand that inexperience and distraction can be a deadly combination on New Jersey.

“While great strides have been made to improve the safety of teen drivers over the past 20 years, motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States,” says Tracy Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “Distraction is found to be a major risk factor in teen driving crashes.”

Nationally, teen-driver related injuries and fatalities are declining, which is great news.  Between 1994-2013, the number of people injured and killed annually in crashes involving teen drivers declined by 51 percent and 56 percent, respectively.  While the reasons for this decline are not entirely clear, research has shown that strong state Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws have contributed substantially to reductions in injury and fatal crashes of drivers aged 15-17, and economic factors including high gas prices and the economic recession of 2008 resulted in substantial declines in teen driving and teen crashes during that period.

However, despite the decline in injuries and deaths, teen drivers are still at risk.  Teenagers have higher rates of crashes per driver and per mile driven than drivers of any other age group.  Additionally, although teenagers represent only seven percent of the licensed population, they are involved in 20 percent of all fatal crashes.  This impacts not just teens, but everyone on the road, as nearly two-thirds of people injured or killed in a crash involving a teen driver are people other than the teen behind the wheel.

Distraction is a major risk factor in teen driving crashes and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that distraction is more of a serious problem for teens than was previously known.  According to a naturalistic driver study, using in-vehicle cameras previously released by the AAA Foundation, distraction was a factor for teen drivers in 58 percent of all crashes studied; including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes.

The most common forms of distraction leading up to a crash by a teen driver included:

  • Interacting with one or more passengers: 15% of crashes
  • Cell phone use: 12% of crashes
  • Looking at something in the vehicle: 10% of crashes
  • Looking at something outside the vehicle: 9% of crashes 
  • Singing/moving to music: 8% of crashes
  • Grooming: 6% of crashes

A teen driver’s fatality risk increases with each additional teen passenger according to a AAA Foundation report. Compared to driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s risk of death per mile driven:

  • Increases 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21 (and no older passengers);

  • Doubles when carrying two passengers younger than 21 (and no older passengers);

  • Quadruples when carrying three or more passengers younger than 21 (and no older passengers);

  • Decreases 62 percent when a passenger aged 35 or older is in the vehicle.

AAA Mid-Atlantic encourages parents to remain engaged with their teen not only during the learning to drive process but once they are licensed, as well.  Studies have shown risky driving, traffic violations and crashes to be lower among teens whose parents set limits on their initial driving privileges.

“The single most important step a parent can take to protect the life of their teen driver is to be actively involved,” said Noble. “Parents should educate their teens about the dangers of cell phone use while driving and restrict passengers during the learning-to-drive process, as well as set a good example by limiting potential distractions while driving themselves.”

Parents are advised to create a parent-teen driving agreement that includes strict ground rules related to distraction while driving and teen passenger limits, as well as other risky behaviors such as speeding. Any violations should result in consequences such as a suspension of driving privileges.  More tips for parents on how to help their teens stay safe on the road can be found at TeenDriving.AAA.com.