Stats Show Teens Are Bad Drivers; Here's How to Help Them Be Safe

Like millennials before them, Gen Z endures a lot of trash talk from older generations that they don’t deserve. But, hey teenagers, when it comes to stereotypes about your driving, I’m sorry: You’re … just … not good.

Related: Study Reveals Best and Worst States for Teen Drivers

To be fair, that’s been true for every generation before you, and it’s not entirely your fault. The simple fact that you’re inexperienced means you haven’t fine-tuned your skills behind the wheel — even your proclivity for risk-taking is attributable to developmental delays in the part of your brain that regulates impulse control.

Still, the bottom line is this: Car crashes remain the leading cause of death among U.S. teens. You’re nearly three times more likely to die in a car crash than drivers 20 or older.

Other risk factors associated with teen drivers, are:

  • Driving with other teen passengers, dividing their attention
  • Nighttime driving — when your daytime driving is still not great
  • Distracted driving, the cause of some 10 percent of teen traffic deaths
  • Drowsy driving, a particular problem for you straight-A, extracurricular-activity types with a lot going on
  • Speeding, cited in nearly a third of teen driving fatalities
  • Impaired driving, cited in 16 percent of teen highway deaths
  • And not using seat belts, cited in 58 percent of teen driving fatalities in 2016

OK, that last one … is just dumb. Those who arguably need seat belts most have the lowest use rate? Put your seat belt on!

Unfortunately, most of the burden falls on these inexperienced, underdeveloped, impulsive young motorists to correct their own.

But there are things the rest of us can do, like pushing for state graduated drivers licensing programs that put new drivers through a series of checks and balances over an extended time to prove they’re fit for the road, as well as primary seat belt enforcement laws that allow police to stop a vehicle solely for a seat belt violation.

For parents, the federal highway safety authorities recommend:

  • Starting the conversation early and often, before it’s time for them to get behind the wheel
  • Setting ground rules about things like seat belt use, stowing smartphones, speeding and other risk factors, and putting them in writing
  • And always setting a good example, as your teen is more likely to do as you do, not as you say

And look at it this way, Gen Z: If you clean up your act behind the wheel, that’ll give those lame adults one less thing to talk smack about.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt Schmitz

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