Sophomores Vs. Seniors: Which Student Body Drives Safer?

CARS.COM — As we come to the end of Child Passenger Safety Week, a recent study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions unearths some hard truths as a reminder that it's not just young children who need stay safe on the road. According to the 2017 Teen Driving Study, older teen drivers — we're looking at you, seniors — experience more accidents and near misses than their more youthful sophomore peers. They're also more likely to exhibit risky driving behaviors.

Related: Keep Your Teen Driver Safe With These Cars

Although the 34 percent of sophomores who have accidents or near misses cited in the study is notable, the 57 percent of seniors who encounter such danger is downright disturbing.

We understand that senior year is exciting, filled with excitement about the imminent freedom that graduation brings and a constant stream of "final hurrah" parties from September through May. But it seems that seniors need to hit pause and check themselves for a minute. Consider these behaviors that seniors are more likely to engage in behind the wheel than sophomores:

  • Using a phone, admitted to by 71 percent of seniors and 55 percent of sophomores
  • Using apps: 67 percent of seniors, 49 percent of sophomores
  • Driving with three or more passengers: 47 percent of seniors, 31 percent of sophomores
  • Speeding: 35 percent of seniors, 18 percent of sophomores
  • Driving while drowsy: 26 percent of seniors, 13 percent of sophomores

Much of this risky behavior can be attributed to the notion that these older teens are more confident in their driving skills — but parents share a bit of blame (another hard truth). The study found that consequences for unsafe driving practices diminish the older the kids get. About 70 percent of sophomore drivers say they'd lose driving privileges if they were to get into an accident, but only 55 percent of the older teens think they'd have their car yanked ... so they act accordingly.

The reality is that it takes teamwork and continued practice on everyone's part to keep safe driving behaviors the norm rather than the exception. Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD and executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Mike Sample, lead driving safety expert and technical consultant at Liberty Mutual, offer a few tips to help keep all of us - from sophomores to seniors to parents - safe:

  • Accountability is king. Everyone needs to continually try to set a good example for everyone else. You can even "game-ify" things and make it competitive with apps like Highway Hero from Liberty Mutual, which tracks and scores each driver based on things like speeding and phone use.
  • Positive reinforcement. Rather than focusing on punishing bad driving behavior, instead think about rewarding safe driving behaviors. Giving teens a $10 iTunes card for two weeks of driving the speed limit might be more effective than prohibiting them from driving after they've been a speed demon.
  • Get it in writing. Sign a mutually beneficial Teen Driving Contract that acts as a tangible reminder and lays out safe practices for the family.

The bottom line is that everyone can do better in encouraging and engaging in safer behaviors behind the wheel. But all you seniors, given the evidence, should especially take heed. You want to make it to May, so put down the phone, drive the speed limit and take a rest if you need it.

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