Preventing Teen Driver Crashes
"The conscious decision to wear our seat belts that day saved three of us. Every choice counts when you’re in a vehicle, whether you’re driving or not."
Mother of Karalee Lewis, an 18-year-old killed in a crash; her mother and two siblings survived.
Teaching a teen to drive can be intimidating. However, research shows that involved parents who set rules and monitor their teen's driving behavior in a supportive way can cut their teen's crash risk in half. According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, teens whose parents are involved in their driving and training were:
- Twice as likely to wear seat belts.
- 70% less likely to drink and drive.
- Half as likely to speed.
- 30% less likely to talk on a cell phone while driving.
The "Be Smart. Be Safe. A Parent's Guide to Smart Teen Driving" helps parents understand their role in teaching their teen how to drive. The guide includes a list of the Utah Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, safe driving tips, and a Parent Teen Driving Agreement, which details the expectations and rules for both the parent and teen driver and lists consequences for breaking driving rules.
The parent guide is also being used with Parent Night Programs. These 1 to 1-1/2 hour classes are provided to parents with a teen in a driver education program through Utah's public high schools. Driver education teachers may require students and their parents to attend the Parent Night Program as part of their classwork. If you are interested in finding a Parent Night Program near you, contact the Zero Fatalities Program at 801-487-4800.
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Laws
Graduated driver licensing allows new drivers to learn driving skills over time and gain the experience needed to become safe drivers. Teens receive a "limited driver license" and have certain driving restrictions such as no night-time driving, limitations on who can be in the vehicle with them, and the amount of supervised driving time they must have before getting a full license. National studies who fatal crashes are about 20% lower in states with comprehensive GDL laws than they are in states without any of the recommended GDL components (2). Since Utah's GDL law was passed in 1999, there has been a 62% decrease in the rate of teens ages 15-17 killed in motor vehicle crashes!
Seat Belt Use
Effective May 12, 2015, Utah law requires that ALL occupants (drivers and passengers) must wear a seat belt, no matter their age. Children ages 8 or younger must also be properly restrained in a car or booster seat. However, teens have the lowest seatbelt use of any age group in Utah (1). While most teen drivers and their passengers involved in a crash were restrained, 80% of teen drivers and their passengers killed in crashes were not buckled up. Unrestrained teen drivers and their passengers were 126 times more likely than restrained occupants to be killed in a crash (1). Wearing seat belts saves lives.
Cell Phone Use and Texting While Driving
Studies have shown that talking on a cell phone while driving, even if it’s hands-free, impairs driving ability, especially for younger drivers. Drivers who used cell phones have 18% slower reaction times while driving and a two-fold increase in the number of rear-end crashes (3, 4). Drivers who talk on handheld or hands-free cell phones are just as impaired as drunk drivers with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level (5).
According to the Utah Highway Safety Office:
- Cell phone use was the leading cause of driver distraction in Utah in 2013, accounting for 14.% of the 5.013 distracted driving crashes.
- Drivers distracted by cell phones were 53% more likely to be age 15-19 compared to all drivers involved in crashes (in 2012).
Effective July 1, 2009, HB290 prohibits all drivers in Utah from text messaging while driving and provides harsh penalties for violating the law.
Effective March 13, 2014, SB253 prohibit drivers in Utah from operating their cell phones for anything without the use of a hands-free device. Drivers will not be allowed to dial, write, send, or read any data or take photos or video on any device that isn’t a permanent part of their car. Teens under the age of 18 were already banned from talking on their cellphones prior to SB253 being passed.
Crashes involving drivers on cell phones have increased since 2011, after experiencing a decline in distracted driving crashes involving cell phones.
The more occupants in the car the more likely a crash involved injury or death. Crashes where the teenage driven vehicle contained four or more passengers were 2.8 times more likely to be fatal than crashes involving teenage driven vehicles with fewer occupants (1).
Factors in Fatal Crashes
In 2013, 23 teen drivers were involved in a fatal crash. More than two dozen people lost their lives, including six of the teen drivers. In addition, teen drivers were 1.3 times more likely than drivers of other ages to be involved in fatal crashes due to the following contributing factors:
- Excessive speeding
- Failing to stay in the proper lane
- Distracted driving (such as distracted by passengers, cell phones, and external distractions)
- Failing to yield the right of way
- Driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs
- 2013 Utah Crash Facts: Teenage Drivers
- National Evaluation of Graduated Driver Licensing Programs
- Just, MA, Keller, TA, Cynkara, JA. Decrease in brain activation associated with driving when listening to someone speak. Brain Research, 2008: 1205; 70-80.
- Strayer, DL, Drews FA. Profiles in Driver Distraction: Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on Younger and Older Drivers. Human Factors, 2004: 46(4); 640-649.
- Strayer, D L, Drews, F.A, Crouch, D.J. A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver. Human Factors, 2006: 48; 381-391.