The period from Memorial Day to Labor Day, marks the annual ‘100 Deadliest Days of Summer,’ according to many traffic safety reports.1,2,5 USA Today reported that teenage drivers (aged 16 to 19, in particular) are at an increased risk of being involved not only in a crash, but also in a fatal crash during this time period.1 The article goes on to report the findings of a study conducted by AAA, the automobile researcher. The study identifies distractions, such as texting and the use of social media by teen drivers, as predominantly responsible for the rise in traffic fatalities among this group and as a factor in nearly 60% of crashes observed.1 What was cited as the greatest source of distraction? Conversing with other teenage passengers. Analysis of video footage obtained during the study, “looked at the final six seconds before a crash and found 15% [of crashes] involved talking to others in the car.”1 This falls in line with traffic safety reports that state the risk of a crash goes up by at least 44% with passengers in the car.7
The traffic safety organization We Save Lives reports that not only do teens have the highest crash rate of any other age group, but that in the summer months there is an increase of 26% in the number of teens killed in crashes when compared with other months of the year.5 This pattern of crash spikes in the summer has been well documented for the past several years, both nationally and right here at home.4,5,7 In Connecticut, even when going back over a decade, the trend is the same. Available crash data from 2003 to present indicate that injury and fatal crashes involving teenagers aged 16-19 see an increase during the summer months.3 Forty-eight percent of all fatal crashes for this age group occur during the months of May to September, along with nearly half of all teen (aged 16-19) deaths during this time. The greatest numbers of fatalities occur in the months of July and August, with a combined total of 81 (24%) during this time period.3
What Teens Can Do:
Stay Focused on Driving
Texts, tweets, calls and snaps can all wait until you are outside of your vehicle. Refrain from using electronic devices or any other activities that take your attention away from the driving task. Remember: You are a novice driver. So, while you may feel prepared and feel that obtaining your driver’s license means you have learned all there is to learn about driving, you haven’t. Driver education cannot teach you or account for everything, and many defensive driving habits are developed over time after years of driving. There are so many variables within the driving environment that can at any time arise as obstacles requiring split second responses. For a new driver, this can be overwhelming and scary. If your attention is diverted to something else, like your BFF riding shotgun, it is even more likely that you will be unable to react in a timely manner, and that can mean the difference between life and death.
Take Ownership and Accountability
Driving is a privilege, not a right, and maintaining a driver’s license requires you to be a responsible road user and take ownership of your driving. Teens can accomplish this in many ways—one of the easiest being to ask for help. If you really want to work on parallel parking or driving in the rain, ask your parents or another adult to take some time and practice with you. They will be happy that you are taking driving seriously enough to practice and appreciate that you asked at all! Another step in taking accountability of your driving is to sign a safe driving pledge or another written agreement between you and your parents outlining restrictions, privileges and expectations when driving. By signing an agreement, you are agreeing to practice safe driving habits when behind the wheel of a car, whether that is refraining from use of electronic devices, always wearing your seat belt or not driving with your peers.
Advocate for Your Peers
Set a good example with your own good driving habits! Be a leader in helping to keep yourself and other teenagers safe while on the road. Hold your friends accountable, too. If you get into the car with a friend and they are texting or don’t put on their seat belt, say something; because, if they crash and are seriously hurt or worse, killed, I’m sure your reasons for NOT saying anything will seem pretty silly in the aftermath. Driving distracted can mean more than just the loss of driving privileges or a high-priced ticket; it can mean the loss of your life, and nothing is worth that.
What Parents Can Do:
Hold Off on Chauffeur Duties
In many instances, when the eldest child in the family receives their driver’s license, it is cause for celebration for themselves as well as their parents. It means there will be another driver in the house, and someone to help pick up younger siblings at soccer practice or after-school flute lessons. Unfortunately, as we now know, many teen drivers do not have the necessary experience to drive safely with such a great source of distraction as passengers. Any parent would choose the safety of their child over the convenience of having an additional driver in the house. So resist the temptation, and make sure your teen is driving alone, free from distraction.
Practice Makes Perfect
It can be hard to set aside time to practice driving with your teen, but it is an absolute must. DriveitHOME, an initiative of the National Safety Council, recommends 30 minutes a week of practice time with them, and that the practice should still continue after they receive their license.4 The DriveitHOME website offers a helpful tool in the form of the Digital Driving Coach, which provides 52 lessons of driver education for parents to download and use with their teen drivers. An example of the helpful hints they offer is to explain to your teen in a calm and clear voice what to do in advance, but also expect them to make mistakes in some situations. Just because your teen receives their license, it DOES NOT mean that they have all the necessary tools to safely navigate all types of driving scenarios; so the more time you dedicate to practicing, the better. Trust me, both you and your teen will feel more confident about them being out on the road with each practice.
Set Clear Driving Rules
Parents have a significant influence over their child’s behaviors and beliefs, and this is also true of driving behavior. Making sure your teen driver knows what is expected of them when they are behind the wheel can go a long way in terms of instilling good driving habits. Do not be afraid to trust your gut and do what makes you feel comfortable as a parent. If your state requires that teen drivers refrain from driving at night for one year, but you think maybe your teen needs just a liiittle more practice, you can make that judgment call. It is important to take the time to have a conversation with your teen about what they should or shouldn’t be doing behind the wheel rather than just assuming they already know. And remember to be positive and encourage the good driving habits that your teen drivers are demonstrating! This is an example of the social norming approach, in which you utilize social norms (i.e. your family/house rules about driving) “to reduce unhealthy behaviors or increase healthy behaviors…and to correct potential misperceptions” about driving habits.6 Need help getting started? Use DriveitHOME’s New Driver Deal agreement.
Additional recommendations from DriveitHOME include, setting a good driving example, monitoring your teen’s technology use, and being a better coach by being aware of what works and what doesn’t when trying to effectively communicate safe driving techniques.4 For more information on these tips and more, click here.
Bart, J. (2016, June 1). AAA: 100 ‘deadliest days’ of summer: Teens on the road after Memorial Day. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/06/01/summer-deadly-for-car-crashes/85237308/.
Basch, M. (2017, May 29). AAA: Memorial Day marks start of 100 deadliest days for teen drivers. WTOP. Retrieved from http://wtop.com/dc-transit/2017/05/s/.
Connecticut Crash Data Repository – CTCDR. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ctrash.uconn.edu.
Drive It Home. (2016). Reducing Your Teen’s Risk. Retrieved from http://driveithome.org/parents-are-the-key.
Lightner, C. (2017). 100 Deadliest Days of Summer. We Save Lives. Retrieved from https://wesavelives.org/100-deadliest-days-of-summer/.
Merrikhpour, M. and B. Donmez. (2017, May 22). Designing feedback to mitigate teen distracted driving: A social norms approach. Accident Analysis and Prevention 104, pp. 185-194.
NBC5 Editorial. (2017, June 16). NBC5 Editorial: The 100 deadliest days of summer. Retrieved from http://www.mynbc5.com/article/nbc5-editorial-the-100-deadliest-days-of-summer/10033373.
Tefft, B., Williams, A., Grabowski, J. (May 2012). Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Retrieved from https://www.aaafoundation.org/sites/default/files/research_reports/2012TeenDriverRiskAgePassengers.pdf