Study: New teen drivers three times as likely to be involved in deadly crash

New teen drivers ages 16-17 years old are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This alarming finding comes as the “100 Deadliest Days” begin, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when the average number of deadly teen driver crashes climbs 15 percent compared to the rest of the year. Over the past five years, more than 1,600 people were killed in crashes involving inexperienced teen drivers ages 16-17 during this deadly period.

In an exclusive survey conducted in May for AAA Mid-Atlantic by Public Policy Polling, 775 licensed drivers residing in Virginia were asked their opinions on teen driving crashes. When asked for opinions on the best way to prevent teen driver crashes, 49 percent of respondents believed that the combination of more driver education, more practice behind the wheel before getting a license, stronger penalties for distracted driving, and more active guidance by parents were all keys to prevent teen driver crashes. Summertime is an ideal time to have that long talk with teens about distractions, speeding and the dangers of not wearing their seatbelts.

 “AAA’s poll confirms that Virginia residents are fully cognizant of the fact that every single day car crashes end more teenage lives than cancer, homicide and suicide combined,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “If history repeats itself, then we know that teens are at even greater risk during the 100 deadliest days of summer (between Memorial Day and Labor Day) when parents tend to give their teens more freedom. To change this outcome, it is imperative for parents to speak with their teens about the need to be extra cautious while driving during the summer months.”

 For every mile on the road, 16-17 year old drivers are four times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a crash and three times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash, the latest research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds. 

“Statistics show that teen crashes spike during the summer months because teens are out of school and on the road,” said Dr. David Yang, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety executive director. “The Foundation’s research found that inexperience paired with greater exposure on the road could create a deadly combination for teen drivers.”

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s latest study, Rates of Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age, analyzes crash rates per mile driven for all drivers and found that for every mile on the road, drivers ages 16-17 years old are:

  • 3.9 times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a crash
  • 2.6 times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a fatal crash
  • 4.5 times as likely as drivers 30-59 to be involved in a crash
  • 3.2 times as likely as drivers 30-59 to be involved in a fatal crash

Fatal teen crashes are on the rise across the nation. The number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes increased more than 10 percent from the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2015 crash data, the latest data available. To reverse this alarming trend, AAA urges parents to get more involved in their teen’s driving experience, monitor their behavior behind the wheel and talk to them about risky driving behaviors.

“Parents are the front line of defense for keeping our roads safer this summer,” said Jennifer Ryan, AAA Director of State Relations. “It all starts with educating teens about safety on the road and modeling good behavior, like staying off the phone and buckling your safety belt.”

Three factors that commonly result in deadly crashes for teen drivers are:

  • Distraction: Distraction plays a role in nearly six out of 10 teen crashes, four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. The top distractions for teens include talking to other passengers in the vehicle and interacting with a smart phone.
  • Not Buckling Up: In 2015, the latest data available, 60 percent of teen drivers killed in a crash were not wearing a safety belt. Teens who buckle up significantly reduce their risk of dying or being seriously injured in a crash.
  • Speeding: Speeding is a factor in nearly 30 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. A recent AAA survey of driving instructors found that speeding is one of the top three mistakes teens make when learning to drive.

Driving distractions and inexperience are well-recognized factors that greatly contribute to vehicle crashes involving young drivers as the AAA poll of licensed drivers in Virginia shows.  Other findings from the Virginia poll include:

  • When asked what they believed were the biggest reasons for teen driving crashes, Virginians responded distraction by cell phone (48%), lack of driving experience (17%), distraction by passengers (18%) and drinking and driving (8%). Another 10 percent were uncertain.
  • When asked what Virginians believed was the leading cause of death for teens, Virginians polled responded motor vehicle crashes (46%), suicide (25%), homicide (7%) and cancer (3%). Another 19% were not certain.
  • Thirty-two percent of respondents believe 10-20 percent of teens involved in crashes within the first year of receiving their driver’s license. Another 21 percent believe it the rate is as high as 20-30 percent of teens being involved in crashes within the first year of receiving a driver’s license.
  • When asked what age group they thought has the highest fatality rate those polled 72% responded ages 18-24.

Public Policy Polling conducted the survey of licensed drivers residing in Virginia in the period from May 17-18, 2017 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5%.

 To keep roads safer this summer, AAA encourages parents to:

  • Have conversations with their teens early and often about distraction and speeding.
  • Teach by example and minimize risky behavior when driving.
  • Make a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules for teen drivers. has a variety of tools to help prepare parents and teens for the dangerous summer driving season. The online AAA StartSmart program also offers great resources for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches as well as advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges. Teens preparing for the responsibility of driving should enroll in a driver education program that teaches how to avoid driver distraction and other safety skills. AAA also offers membership discounts for new teen drivers to help keep them safe on the road in case of an emergency.


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