Teen driver fatality rate climbing

Though 2013 is but a few months old, there have already been a spate of high-profile, fatal accidents involving teen drivers and their passengers. A recent crash outside Chicago killed four teens when the young driver hit a patch of ice, slid through a guardrail and ended up in a nearby creek. A similar incident in Ohio resulted in another six deaths.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently issued a report that put teen driver deaths in perspective: in spite of recent advances in auto safety and roadway design, more teens than ever before are dying in car accidents. From 2011 to 2012, the rate of 16- and 17-year-old drivers killed in accidents across America jumped nearly 20 percent.

Not all jurisdictions have seen increases — Louisiana, for example, saw no noticeable change in its teen driver fatality rate year-over-year — but the fact still remains that car accidents are one of the leading causes of death between ages 15 and 20. The GHSA/NHTSA report has led some lawmakers and public safety watchdog advocates to propose new, tougher legislation on novice drivers that would hopefully quell the tide of fatalities.

Why do teens crash so often?

That very question has plagued lawmakers for years, and, sadly, there isn't a clear answer. Teen drivers not only lack the experience that older drivers do — which would give them the knowledge required to handle various traffic and road-related hazards that could creep up — they also tend to drive while distracted by gadgets like handheld cellphones and text messages. Teenagers also exhibit a wide range of other hazardous roadway behaviors, like:

  • Eating while behind the wheel (this may seem innocuous, but eating can pull a driver's attention away from the road for seconds at a time, something that can easily be fatal at highway speeds)
  • Chatting with passengers instead of focusing on traffic
  • Changing music selections on an mp3 player or CD player
  • Speeding
  • Driving aggressively
  • Driving too fast for weather, road or traffic conditions

What can be done to help?

Lawmakers in some areas of the country have proposed tougher laws against driving while speaking on a handheld cell phone, texting or checking email on an Internet-enabled phone as a way to curb teenage car accidents. Others have suggested a more regimented "graduated license" program that aims to ensure that teen drivers have the experience and supervision necessary to learn good vehicle-handling skills. Some companies have even produced apps that might help keep focus on the road by preventing cell phone or text access while a car is in motion.

There likely isn't a single solution to the problem of teenage motor vehicle accidents, since there are so many possible causes. If you — or your child — has been injured in an accident involving a teen driver, consult an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to ensure that the person responsible for the accident that changed your life will be held accountable.