While summer brings a break from school for most teenagers, it also ushers in the “100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers between Memorial Day at the end of May and Labor Day at the start of September. Young drivers spend more time on the roads traveling to and from their jobs or visiting with friends. Because of their age and lack of experience, they are more prone to being involved in auto accidents.
Parents may be at a loss about how to prevent their children from experiencing or causing a crash, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a first step of using a Parent-Teenager Driving Agreement. Actions like this can open the lines of communication with teens to educate them about the responsibilities that come with a driver’s license.
Leading Causes of Summertime Teen Driving Accidents
Driving fatalities with teenagers behind the wheel increased during June, July, and August by over 31% compared with the rest of the year. This includes teen drivers, their passengers, passengers in other vehicles, and pedestrians. There are a number of year-round circumstances that are especially common in summer when young drivers have more time to drive during the day and at night. These causes include:
Lack of Experience
It’s easy for parents who have probably driven for many years to forget how new and overwhelming it can be to learn how to drive. Even though teenagers are younger and have faster reflexes, they lack the time behind the wheel required to respond safely to unexpected situations. Lack of experience means teenagers are not as skilled at reacting or stopping in time leads to avoid car accidents.
Ignoring Smart Driving Guidelines
Because teenage brains are still developing, young drivers are prone to committing critical errors, such as failing to scan thoroughly for hazards, driving too fast for conditions, and being distracted while driving. Teenage drivers also struggle with impulse control and often disobey safety rules to drive recklessly or speed. Other teen passengers in the car may egg them on to break the law because they also lack impulse control.
When we talk about distracted driving, most people think of a driver using their cell phone. Teens’ lives are deeply entwined with their cell phones, but learning to avoid this distraction can be influenced by parents who model good driving behavior for them. Other distractions include passengers, particularly when those passengers are other teenagers. Young drivers tend to focus on the conversation more than driving defensively. Even listening to music while driving can impair their reaction times, no matter how fast the tempo or how loud the volume is.
Teen motorists need many hours of driving to learn how to intuitively judge their speed and regulate it in response to changing road conditions. Analysis by the Governors’ Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) showed drivers between 16 and 19 years old were 43% more likely to be involved in a fatal accident due to speeding than any other demographic. Accidents related to speed happen most often at night, during bad weather, and with other teenage passengers in the car.
Driving While Impaired
Despite being legally underage, teenagers often find a way to obtain alcohol or drugs. These substances impair a teen’s already underdeveloped reaction skills even more severely, making them much more likely to cause a drunk driving crash. For various reasons, young drivers will decide to drink and drive. Among high school-aged students, as many as 70% admit to drinking, with 1 in 10 driving while intoxicated.
How Can Parents Keep Their Teens Safe During the 100 Deadliest Days?
Helping your teenager be a safe driver during the summer and all year round starts with modeling the good behavior you want them to practice. Set the example: buckle your seatbelt, don’t use your cellphone while driving, obey all laws, and don’t drink and drive. Parents can also talk with their teens about how to handle peer pressure from their friends. This can give them tools to stand up to someone who encourages them to break the law or be unsafe.
Keeping your teenager safe during the summer driving season is a lot like parenting them through any other part of their life. Get to know their friends and speak to them about how important it is for everyone to limit distractions while driving. Emphasize the safety rules and invite conversations about driving that their friends may not be having with their own parents. If your state requires third-party driving instruction, be sure to sign your teenager up for those classes. Learning with an instructor instead of a parent can often take the stress out of improving their skills.
It’s also important to develop a plan that you both agree to cover what to expect if they are in an accident or are stopped by the police. Help them understand what they should do and revisit the plan often, so it stays fresh in their minds in the event they need to use it. No one wants to see their child arrested for drunk driving or involved in a speeding accident, but it’s critical they know they can call on their parents to help them.
What Should Parents Do if Their Teenage Driver Is in an Accident?
Even teenagers who usually follow all the rules and aren’t risk-takers could end up being involved in an accident. Although the chances of a teen driver causing a crash are slightly higher, it doesn’t mean they may not be the victim of someone else’s negligence. There are always other drivers with more experience who fail to follow the law or who drive recklessly.
When your teenager is involved in a car crash, the first thing to do is ensure they are safe and out of danger. Regardless of who is at fault, the next step should be to contact an experienced car accident lawyer who can guide you through filing insurance claims or litigating in the event of a court case. Staying calm and helping a young driver understand the process will show them the best way to handle similar situations in the future.