WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, June 3, 2021) ––Recently, teens, 16-years-old and older, and children ages 12-15 years old, became eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, giving many parents some peace of mind. Now teen drivers and their passengers, including their younger siblings, who are often “riding shotgun” with them, as it were, in the summertime, are entering a danger zone dubbed the “100 Deadliest Days of Summer,” even as some COVID-19 related restraints are relaxed. That’s worrisome for parents of teenagers and troublesome for teenage drivers. Parents can’t afford to let their guard down during summer – because motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. Nor can teens – because they have the highest crash rate of any age group. Summer, in all this, is the “cruelest season.”
Teen driving deaths increased as much as 12 percent in some states in 2020. Officials cite the pandemic as a contributing factor. This summer could prove more dangerous for teenagers and others on the highway “with the excitement over pandemic restrictions easing,” some safety advocates and driver education providers fear. Teen drivers are returning to the roads this summer at the highest levels since the onslaught of the pandemic. Nationwide, more than 7,000 people died in crashes nationwide involving teen drivers from 2010 to 2019 during the “100 Deadliest Days,” the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That’s more than seven people a day each summer, compared to the rest of the year (six people per day).
In Virginia, 72 fatalities resulted from teen driver-involved crashes during 2020, according to AAA. Even so, thirty of those deaths happened during the “100 Deadliest Days of Summer” of 2020. More tellingly, half of those 30 deaths were teenagers, and teens, age 15-19, were involved in 4,421 crashes on Virginia roads the summer of 2020.
Tragically, Virginia saw a total of 244 teenage driver and passenger fatalities in the period from 2015-2019, according to an analysis of FARS data by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
This compares to 130 teen driver and passenger fatalities in Maryland in that 5-year span; five teen driver and passenger fatalities in the District of Columbia during that most recent historical milieu; in addition to 89 teen driver and passenger fatalities in West Virginia, from 2015 through 2019, the GHSA reports.
“There are more daily deaths in crashes involving teen drivers during the summer months than the rest of the year because teens tend to have more unstructured time behind the wheel,” said Kurt E. Gray, Director, Driver Education, AAA Club Alliance, Inc.
“So what can be done? We can encourage teens to double down on staying focused when driving, buckling up for every ride, and driving within posted speed limits.”
Due to their inexperience, teen drivers are at a higher risk of crashes. According to the AAA Foundation 2019 Traffic Safety Culture Index, about 72% of teen drivers aged 16-18 admitted to having engaged in at least one of the following risky behaviors in the past 30 days:
- Driving 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street (47%).
- Driving 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway (40%).
- Texting (35%).
- Red-light running (32%).
- Aggressive driving (31%).
- Drowsy driving (25%).
- Driving without a seatbelt (17%).
Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us do each day. As teens take to the road this summer, especially with many pandemic regulations and rules abating, now is an excellent time for parents to model safe driving behaviors and help ensure their teens practice them too, recommends AAA. Parents should also consider having their teens complete a comprehensive driver education course to learn the rules of the road.
It’s every parent’s nightmare. Indeed, an analysis of U.S. Fatality Analysis Recording System (FARS) data by the GHSA found a seemingly inexorable nexus or yoke between the number of teen driving deaths and speeding on roadways.
“The new analysis for GHSA found that from 2015 to 2019, teen drivers and passengers (16-19 years of age) accounted for a greater proportion of speeding-related fatalities (43%) than all other age groups (30%). During this five-year period, 4,930 teen drivers and passengers died in speeding-related crashes.” As to area teenager drivers and their passengers, the study, published January 2021, reveals:
Teen Driver and Passenger Fatalities and Speeding-Related Fatalities by State, 2015–2019
State Or Jurisdiction Total Teen Fatalities Speed-Related Fatalities % Speed-Related Washington, D.C. 5 4 80% Maryland 130 65 50% Virginia 244 120 49%
Sources: FARS, GHSA
“With teens crashing at a rate four times higher than adults, parents remain the best line of defense to keep everyone safe behind the wheel,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs.
“It’s never too soon to educate teens on the dangers of distracted driving, speeding, and the impairing effects of alcohol and marijuana. But parents can’t just tell teens about the dangers. Parents must also eschew engaging in risky driving behaviors and ensure they are modeling good behavior at all points.”
To keep roads safer this summer, AAA encourages parents to:
- Talk with teens early and often about abstaining from dangerous behavior behind the wheel, such as speeding, impairment and distracted driving.
- Teach by example, and minimize risky behavior when driving.
- Establish a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules for teen drivers.
- Conduct at least 50 hours of supervised practice driving with their teen.
Driving safely is fundamental: summer, fall, winter and spring, in every season of life. AAA suggests that summer is always a good time for adult drivers to practice safe driving behaviors with their teens. To support parents in conducting practice driving sessions AAA provides a free four-page guide to help parents coach their teens on how to drive safely, “Coaching Your New Driver – An In-Car Guide for Parents.”
This guide offers behind-the-wheel lesson plans, including various “DOs and DON’Ts” to make the learning experience as helpful as possible.
AAA Teen Driver Website has a variety of tools to help prepare parents and teens for the dangerous summer driving season. The online AAA StartSmart Parent Session also offers excellent resources for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches as well as advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges. Teens preparing for the responsibility of driving should enroll in a driver education program that teaches how to avoid driver distraction and other safety skills.
Here is the upshot. The combination of schools closed for the summer, summer jobs and activities, and the lifting of most coronavirus protocols, could prove deadly as teens take to the road this summertime.
To wit, AAA recommends that now, this season of life, is an ideal time for parents to both model safe driving behaviors and help ensure their teens practice them too.