The Sobering Research About Teenage Drivers

Dear Daniel,

Now that you’re six months past your fifteenth birthday, you’re eager to get your learner’s permit to drive a car, and then eventually your driver’s license. Me, not so much.

I remember learning to drive at your age in Texas, when my mom could barely see at night, and then when I got my driver’s license (on the second attempt). Driving is freedom like no other. Driving also involves more responsibility than you’ve ever had before, too, and that concerns me as your parent. Based on my research about teenage drivers, here’s some timely advice:

I’ve told you before that automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2004), and the highest crash rate occurs with teenagers at age 16 (Williams, 2003), according to the nearby Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Fairfax  County, Virginia (Helliunga, McCartt, & Mandavilli, 2007).

Be careful when you’re driving to and from school. You’ve already read my blog about research that supports later start times for high schools. I believe Fairfax County cited this 2006 study when school officials decided to start high schools later in the morning. I wish Chesterfield County schools would do the same.

Please be aware that a higher percentage of crashes involve teenage drivers during morning commute times near high schools, so drive extra-carefully to and from school.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “across the United States the average number of 16- to 17-year-old drivers involved in weekday crashes during the 2001–04 school year months spiked to very high levels at the times when drivers typically commute to and from school—around 7:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m…Young driver fatal crash involvements also are high during school commute times; in 2005, there were spikes in 16- to 17-year-old fatal crash involvements around 7 a.m. and around 3 p.m. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2006b). Remember when we saw a multi-car accident in front of your high school on the very first day of school?

You’re not your friends’ taxi driver. More than a third of fatal car crashes of teenagers under 18 occurred when the drivers had one or more teenagers in the same car. In a majority of those accidents, the teenage passengers were the same gender, and involved high schools, illegal alcohol use but no seat belts. Virginia law prevents the number of teenage passengers while you’re learning to drive, so tell your friends to find another ride.

Your tendency to get distracted easily will factor into our decisions about your driving privileges. You’re a marvelous teenage boy who’s growing up so quickly. Your voice is lower, you’re starting to shave, and you’re ready to invite a girl (gasp) to watch you play hockey. On the ice, you’re a very fast, focused player who can pretty much out-race, out-maneuver, and outsmart most of your opponents. You need to use the same level of focus while you’re driving. You can expect that I will apply the guidance offered by a 2015 study that recommended parents reinforce consciousness while driving to improve performance and help avoid crashes. It’s interesting to note that a 2015 study found that teenagers with and without attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) did not differ significantly in driving performance.

Do not text and drive. However, that same 2015 study found, “Texting while driving had the greatest negative impact on driving performance, particularly with regard to variability in lane position” (Stavrinos, Garner, Franklin, Johnson, Welburn, Griffin, & Fine). In 2010, Adeola and Gibbons noted that “Although almost all drivers believe that texting while driving is unsafe, 52% of drivers aged 18 years and less reported texting while driving on a daily basis.’ Seventy percent of young drivers reported initiating texts while driving, 81% reported replying to texts while driving, and 92% reported reading texts while driving. Only 2% of drivers aged 18 years and less report that they never text and drive under any circumstances.”

You’ve seen how Papa and me drive around drivers we see texting. I’ve been known to pull next to a distracted driver, honk my horn to get them to stop, and put them in my rearview mirror. These drivers are unpredictable, veering from one side of the lane to the other, slowing down and then racing to catch up with the traffic flow, and nearly cause accidents.

I know how much you like to watch YouTube videos, so check this one out. It got the highest rating in a 2014 study of YouTube videos about changing the behaviors of teens to prevent texting and driving:

Experience behind the wheel will take time. I’m looking forward to teaching how you can be the best driver you can be, along with being a better role model to your friends as well.


The opinions in this article reflect only those of the author.


Adeola, R., & Gibbons, M. (2013). Get the message: Distracted driving and teens. Journal of trauma nursing, 20(3), 146-149. doi:10.1097/JTN.0b013e3182a172cc

Atchley. P., Atwood, S., & Boulton, A. (2010). The choice to text and drive in younger drivers: behavior may shape attitude. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 43(l). 134-442.

Ehsani, J. P., Li, K., Simons-Morton, B. G., Fox Tree-McGrath, C., Perlus, J. G., O’Brien, F., & Klauer, S. G. (2015). Conscientious personality and young drivers’ crash risk. Journal Of Safety Research, 54(Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP 2) and Special Issue: Fourth International Symposium on Naturalistic Driving Research), 83.e29-87. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2015.06.015

Hellinga, L. A., McCartt, A. T., & Mandavilli, S. (2007). Temporal patterns of crashes of 16-to 17-year-old drivers in Fairfax County, Virginia. Traffic Injury Prevention, 8(4), 377. doi:10.1080/15389580701354177

Stavrinos, D., Garner, A. A., Franklin, C. A., Johnson, H. D., Welburn, S. C., Griffin, R., & Fine, P. R. (2015). Distracted driving in teens with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal Of Pediatric Nursing, 30(Special Issue: Health Care Transition for Adolescents and Emerging Adults with Special Health Care Needs and Disabilities), e183-e191. doi:10.1016/j.pedn.2015.04.006

Steadman, M., Chao, M. S., Strong, J. T., Maxwell, M., & West, J. H. (2014). C U L8ter: YouTube distracted driving PSAs use of behavior change theory. American Journal of Health Behavior, 38(1). 3-12. doi:10.5993/AJHB.38.1.1

Williams, A. F., & Tefft, B. C. (2014). Characteristics of teens-with-teens fatal crashes in the United States, 2005–2010. Journal Of Safety Research, 48. 37-42. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2013.11.001

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