Getting a driver's license is a major milestone for teens.
But it's also one that can lead to tragedy.
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2,082 teen drivers were involved in fatal motor vehicle traffic accidents in 2016. Roughly 10 percent of those drivers were distracted at the time of the crash - oftentimes by the teens who are riding with them.
New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that when a teen driver has only teen passengers in their vehicle, the fatality rate for all people involved in a crash increased 51 percent. In contrast, when older passengers (35 or older) ride with a teen driver, overall fatality rates in crashes decreased 8 percent.
In Minnesota, drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to have more than one passenger under 20 ride with them for the first six months after they receive their license (this does not apply to immediate family members).
In 2016, teen drivers across the country were involved in more than 1 million police-reported crashes. Researchers, according to the AAA, pinpointed that when teens were carrying teen passengers, fatality rates jumped:
• 56 percent for occupants of other vehicles.
• 45 percent for the teen driver.
• 17 percent for pedestrians and cyclists.
"This analysis shows that in crashes where teen drivers are behind the wheel with a teen passenger, a larger portion of those killed are other road users," said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "This study also found the fatality rate of a teen-driver related crash increased when factors like speeding or driving at night, were introduced."
"Teens simply lack experience behind the wheel, which increases the odds of a deadly outcome, not just for the teen driver, but for their passengers and others on the roadways," said Mark Peterson, public affairs specialist for AAA. "Parents of teens must take this rite of passage seriously by setting and consistently enforcing rules to limit teenage passengers in the vehicle."
One good way to address this problem: Teens and parents need to have an honest talk about what they can do to reduce the chances of getting into a crash.
To get the conversation started, try talking about these tips provided by Farm Bureau Financial Services as part of National Teen Driver Safety Week on how to avoid common driving mistakes:
Teen Driving Mistake No. 1 - being in rush.
Tip: Leave early. Build extra time into your commute for congestion, traffic, and any other delays. This way, teens won't be tempted to speed or disobey traffic laws in an attempt to "catch-up."
Teen Driving Mistake No. 2 - ignoring traffic signs.
Tip: Slow down. Neighborhood and school zone speed limits are reduced for a reason. Be aware of your surroundings. Another tip: Stop means stop. Make sure you come to a complete stop and check sidewalks and crosswalks carefully for pedestrians before proceeding.
Teen Driving Mistake No. 3 - not looking in every direction.
Tip: Reverse carefully. Going in reverse can be challenging and intimidating for anyone, especially for teens. Make sure your teen checks for pedestrians on the sidewalk, driveway, and around the vehicle before slowly backing up. Another tip: Watch for bicycles. Make sure you slow down and allow three feet or more of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist.
Getting that first driver's license is a major accomplishment. That feeling of mobility and being able to hit the open road is exciting. But it comes with responsibilities that should be discussed openly and thoroughly between parents and teens from the get-go.