As the nation heads into the deadliest driving period of the year for teens — between Memorial Day and Labor Day — we do so amid some unsettling statistics: Teen driving deaths are on track to increase for the second consecutive year following eight years of decline. That's according to a study from the Governors Highway Safety Association, which shows that deaths were up 19% among 16- and 17-year-old drivers during the first six months of 2012 compared with the first six months of 2011, heralding another deadly year for young motorists if the trend continues.
USA Today reported that 240 highway fatalities of 16- and 17-year-olds occurred through the first half of 2012, up from 202 the same period a year earlier. During the same time, overall traffic deaths rose 8%. Research shows that motor-vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds, and that more than half of those deaths are passengers, most not wearing seatbelts.
Risky behavior, distracted driving and general inexperience are top concerns regarding teen drivers, so many states have developed graduated driver's license programs, or GDLs. These restrict new drivers from certain activities — late-night driving and carrying passengers, for example — until they have had their licenses for a specified period of time. While an improving economy means more drivers and more potential for accidents, some experts also speculate states have softened on their use of GDL programs.
According to a study by the nonprofit teen driving program Tire Rack Street Survival, eight teens in the 16-19 age group die in car accidents every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day. So whether your state has a GDL program or not, the Insurance Information Institute advises the following precautions:
- Choose a safe car that is easy to drive and offers protection in a crash — avoid small cars, SUVs and those with high-performance images.
- Enroll teens in a driver-education course and safe-driver program, which will better prepare them for challenging situations on the road. These programs inform teens of the responsibilities and consequences of driving, and possibly earn them an insurance discount.
- Discuss the dangers of talking or texting on cellphones while driving, as well as drug and alcohol use, and develop a plan for getting home if they encounter an impaired-driving situation.
- Be a good role model. Remember: If you drive recklessly, your teen likely will imitate you.