Why Young Drivers Crash, and What Can Be Done About It
Driving is dangerous no matter who you are or where you live. In the United States alone, over 37,000 people lost their lives in 2016 as a result of motor vehicle crashes.1 Worldwide, that figure jumps to over one million per year,2 accounting for more than one-quarter of all injury deaths in the world.3 Unfortunately, the hazards don’t affect everyone equally. As any experienced police officer or car accident lawyer will tell you, young people top the list of at-risk drivers.
The Problem of Teenage Driving
Motor vehicle crashes are the single leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers.4 No matter which studies you look at, drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 make up a disproportionate percentage of car accident victims. In 2015, almost 3,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 died in traffic-related accidents. The vast majority (two-thirds) of those were male.
According to one report, young drivers are five to 10 times more likely to suffer serious injuries than those in the safest age group.5 Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 years old face the greatest risks; they’re three times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers aged 20 and older.6
The good news is that teenage deaths have decreased dramatically over the past 40 years. Fatalities among teenage males have seen a particularly sharp decline. Today, roughly 3,000 teenagers die every year, rather than 6,000, which was the norm just a few decades ago. When you factor in the growing population, those numbers are encouraging.
- A Promising Trend
- 69% decline in teenage deaths between 1975 and 2015.
- 73% decline in male teenage deaths during the same period.
- 58% decline in female teenage deaths.6
That being said, traffic accidents among young people are still too high when compared with the rest of the population. The statistics are even more disturbing when you consider that young people tend to drive less than any other age group except the elderly.
Why Are Young People More Likely to Get in Accidents?
Both inexperience and immaturity are to blame for the higher accident rate among teenagers. Research shows that, regardless of age, drivers with less experience are more likely to be involved in an accident. That being said, the importance of experience decreases with age, suggesting that youth does play a significant role in a driver’s inability to handle road conditions.3
To get into specifics, some of the most common causes of teen accidents include:
- Driver error: Studies show that driver error is more common in crashes involving young people. The reason? Inexperience can often lead teens to make poor judgment calls, which increases the risk of accidents.
- Excessive speed: Young people are more prone to speeding. In fact, speeding contributed to roughly 30 percent of all teen accidents.7
- Alcohol: According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), young people drink and drive at a lower rate than the adult population. Nevertheless, those who do get behind the wheel after having a few drinks face a substantially higher risk of being involved in an accident. When you mix youth and inexperience with alcohol, the results are often catastrophic.6
- Peer pressure: The risk of a fatal accident increases with each young passenger that gets into the car with a teen driver. Overall, more than 50 percent of all teenage passenger deaths occurred while another teen was driving.
- Night driving: Young drivers are four times more likely to get into an accident at night than during the day.
- Not wearing a safety belt: Refusing to wear a safety belt is another common error of judgment that can be chalked up to immaturity. Most teenagers who die in traffic accidents failed to strap themselves into the seat.7
Ways of Preventing Road Accidents Among Teens
Safety experts have spent nearly a century trying to figure out how to lower the rate of fatal accidents among younger age groups. Over the years, they’ve tried a wide variety of strategies, from educational programs to legal initiatives. Public safety measures have included curfews, compulsory driver training, and graduated licensing programs.
Some programs are designed to help new drivers develop mechanical driving skills—how to maneuver, how to follow the rules of the road, how to spot dangerous situations. Government regulations (e.g., curfews) tend to aim at behavior modification. Other researchers have studied the ability of a vehicle to decrease the risk of serious injury or death in a crash.
These days, most driver training programs try to incorporate social and behavioral education into their curriculum in order to improve not only the maneuvering skills of young people but also their decision-making abilities. Some courses ask teenagers and new drivers to consider the consequences of their actions by asking questions like:
- Which of these is a consequence of speeding?
- Which laws or rules prevent or reduce injury by preventing crashes?
- Which situation always warrants calling 911 when someone is injured?
- Which action can lead to intentional injuries?
If the four-decades-long decline in teenager fatality rates is any indication, many initiatives have been successful, but which ones have actually worked and which ones do nothing but drain public resources? It’s hard to tell since many of the programs have existed side by side for many decades. That being said, researchers believe that a combination of communication and enforcement offer the best results.
What Are States Doing Now?
In order to remedy the high crash rate among young drivers, a number of programs are being implemented in several states. One of the most successful initiatives to date has been graduated licensing, which phases in driving privileges over time, rather than awarding them all at once.
Graduated licensing laws have been in place in most states since at least the mid-1990s, and research suggests they have had a significant impact on teenage road safety, lowering the fatal crash rate and reducing insurance claim rates.6
What Happens When Prevention Fails and Accidents Happen?
In spite of all the preventative measures in the world, young people still get into more than their fair share of accidents. While they are often the first victims of their own mistakes, their inexperience and immaturity also pose a danger to others. Of course, there are steps people can take to lower the risk of an incident—following all safety precautions, staying vigilant, practicing defensive driving maneuvers—but there is no foolproof method to prevent accidents in all cases.
Sometimes, the only step people can take to protect themselves is to contact a car accident lawyer after the fact. While automobile accident lawyers can’t wind back the clock and prevent injuries or reverse property damage, they can help victims of teenage driving accidents get the compensation they need to pay off their medical expenses and put their lives back together again.
In Texas, there is no limit to the amount of damages that can be awarded. That being said, victims must first prove negligence in order to receive an award. All told, plaintiffs have the right to sue for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Permanent disability
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Quality of life damages
The state of Texas has set a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury cases, which means that accident victims have two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. That means that time is of the essence. Wait too long to file a lawsuit, and you could forfeit your right to compensation.8
Where to Turn After a Car Crash in or Around Houston, TX
If you’ve been injured in a car crash with a teenage driver or if someone you love has died in a traffic accident because of another’s driver’s inexperience, then you may have the right to sue for damages. The automobile accident lawyers at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. can help. We make it our job to fight for the rights of injured victims.
Whether your teenager was involved in an accident or you have suffered at the hands of a young driver, we can help you navigate the legal system. With over 100 years of combined experience and over $720 million in recovered damages (including almost $3,00,000 in one recent case alone), we know how to get results for our clients. Call us or fill out our online form to receive immediate legal assistance from our seasoned attorneys. Together, we can overcome the most formidable obstacles on the road to recovery.