The Dangers of Teen Driving
Although teens make up only 7 percent of the total driving population, they account for 14 percent of all fatalities. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 19. "In 2000 alone, we recorded 4,877 teen deaths as a result of preventable crashes," says Rose McMurray, associate administrator for traffic safety programs at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Today, 16-year-old girls are just as likely to crash as 16-year-old boys. And the fatality rate for girls ages 15 to 20 increased 4 percent from 1990 to 2000. "Parents are letting girls drive more often, so they are just as much at risk," says McMurray.
Then, of course, there are the many innocent victims who die in car crashes with teens each year. "Teen crashes have become an epidemic," says McMurray. "Teens are risk takers." Of those involved in crashes in 2000, 36 percent of teens had been drinking, and 58 percent were speeding at the time of the crash, according to the NHTSA. "They think they are immortal," says McMurray.
Dennis Doverspike, PhD, a professor of psychology who studies teen risk-taking attitudes at the University of Akron in Ohio, echoes McMurray's sentiments. "It takes several years for driving to become an automatic response and teens don't have these years of experience under their belts," he says. Most teens never have to practice driving in inclement weather or high-speed traffic before getting a license, says Doverspike, and "When placed in one of these situations, they don't know how to respond. Add to that raging hormones and you've got yourself one inexperienced and distracted driver."