For teenagers, an exciting milestone is receiving their driver’s license. But research shows those first few months behind the wheel are the most critical and most risky for crashes, according to the Institutes of Health.
The study also shows that teens with a learner’s permit drove more safely, with their crash and risky driving rates similar to those of adults.
The reason: inexperience and the tendency to get distracted, according to studies.
Teenage drivers are eight times more likely to be involved in a collision or near miss during the first three months after getting a driver’s license.
“There was a study that Texas A&M University did a few years back that the young adults between 18-25 years old (who were in accidents); it turned out that 80 percent of those were parent-taught or online-taught. So I’m not trying to plug my industry, but I do recommend parents bring them to a professional driving school,” driving school instructor Rick Hinojosa said.
No matter how careful they are, all teen drivers start off inexperienced, and each will face many distractions.
“Besides other kids, there is music, they could be eating in the car, they could be rubber-necking looking outside the window at an accident, looking at poster boards, billboards and what not,” Hinojosa said. “Lots of things can distract a child from their actual driving task.
“The biggest is texting and that is pretty much a plague in this country right now as it stands.”
Texting and driving isn’t the leading cause of distracted driving among teens. It is other teens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for those between ages 16 and 19.
“Every person in a car increases their chances of an accident by 33 percent. So if you have three kids in the car they are certain to have a collision,” said Hinojosa.
Studies show that 36 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities involving teen drivers occurred between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Twenty-nine percent of all motor vehicle deaths involving a teen driver were speed-related. And driving schools are doing everything they can to help lower those numbers.
“These courses are intended to bring the student up to the level of driving where they can drive independently, they can drive safely, respect the law, and the rules of the road which are pretty universal through the whole U.S.,” Hinojosa said.
Three factors contributing to deadly crashes for teen drivers include speeding, distracted driving, and not using a seatbelt.
The 100 deadliest days for teen drivers fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In 2016, more than 1,050 people died in crashes involving a teen driver during that time period.
The study enrolled 90 teenagers and 131 parents in Virginia, and the data collection system was developed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg.
Overall, the study found that the crash/near crash rate for teenagers did not decline over the first year of independent driving, while the rate of risky driving modestly declined.
According to the researchers, if teenagers were learning from their experiences, one would expect that the driving risks would consistently decline over time.
Teenagers also had a higher risky driving rate under favorable conditions daytime or dry roads compared to less favorable conditions nighttime or wet roads.
This finding implies that teenagers may be more careful and less inclined to take risks during unfavorable driving conditions.
When comparing male and female teens, the study team found that the risky driving rate did not differ by gender during the learning period.
However, when teenagers entered independent driving stages, males had a higher risky driving rate. This rate did not consistently decrease over time for males but did decrease for females.
The crash/near crash rate was similar across genders and driving periods.
The researchers aim to identify factors that may improve safety and reduce specific driving risks. They plan to address whether the duration and quality of practice driving can predict future outcomes in the independent driving period.
They also will explore how passengers influence driving risk during learner and independent driving periods.