The leading cause of death for teenagers in the U.S. is car accidents. Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to midnight are the deadliest four hours a week for teen drivers. Summer, specifically the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, is the deadliest period for drivers aged 15-20.
Traffic safety experts say that the reason summertime portends a higher incidence of fatal car accidents involving teen drivers is simply that teens have more free time, less supervision, and more opportunities to drive at night.
“There’s just more exposure for teens during the summertime,” explained AAA spokesperson Justin McNaull in a recent story for USA TODAY. “Parents need to be more engaged than ever, to make sure their teens aren’t doing destructive things outside the home.”
The Two Main Factors in Teen Car Accidents are Inexperience and Immaturity
When teens drive during the school year, accidents usually involve inexperience — a miscalculation while making a turn, or rear-ending someone because they didn’t leave themselves enough to stop.
Summertime car wrecks, on the other hand, are often the result of immaturity, says McNaull. “[W]hen young drivers and their friends are driving to fast-food places or looking for a party, that’s when you see more of the crashes related to immaturity, wanton risk-taking.”
Tragically, fatal car accidents involving teens are all too common. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nine 16- to 19-year-olds die every day in car accidents. And, teen drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a car wreck than older drivers, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The risks for teen drivers are high year-round. In 2008 in the USA, nine youths ages 16-19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that drivers in this age group are four times more likely to crash than older drivers.
Both Teen Drivers and Their Parents Need to Take Extra Care to Prevent Summer Car Accidents
In response to reports by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the dangers of teen summer driving, a number of states and highway safety advocates are presenting programs to remind teen drivers and their parents of the need to exercise extreme caution during summer break.
AAA has created a top-ten list teen driving mistakes that could lead to a serious or fatal car accident, along with tips on how to avoid them. Briefly, those ten potentially deadly teen driving habits are:
- Risk taking — believing you won’t be in a tragic car accident
- Overconfidence — thinking you already know how to handle any risky situation
- Giving in to peer pressure or failing to speak up about dangerous driving behaviors
- Not wearing a seat belt
- Having too many passengers
- Driving distracted by cell phones or texting
- Adjusting the radio or CD player, especially for new drivers
- Late-night cruising
- Driving under the influence
- “Teen driver risks in high gear over summer” (USA TODAY, June 21, 2010)
- “10 Deadly Teen Driver Mistakes and How to Avoid Them” (AAA safety handout)