The statistics are startling. In 2012, 4,283 young drivers were involved in fatal crashes, and in 1,875 of those crashes the teen driver died. According to the Center for Disease Control, car crashes are the leading cause of death from Americans aged 12-19.
Teen passengers suffer as well as drivers. A new study from Safe Kids Worldwide, conducted in conjunction with the General Motors Foundation, found teen passengers made up 44 percent of those killed in car crashes. Passengers can also contribute to a crash. NHTSA found that teens are 2.5 times more likely to engage in risky behavior when there was someone else in the car.
What makes being a young driver so dangerous? Safe Kids Worldwide asked 1,000 teens and found at least one answer: seat belts. One in four teens surveyed said they don't use a seat belt on every ride, even though 60 percent of teens killed in car accidents last year weren't wearing a seatbelt.
Teens gave various answers for why they weren't buckling up. One in three said that using a seat belt was simply not a habit. Some said they weren't going far enough to warrant the extra protection, at 16 percent, and 11 percent said the seat belt was not comfortable. The remaining 33 percent of teens who don't buckle up said that going to a party was a reason.
It gets worse. Teens who don't buckle up are also more likely to text while behind the wheel. Safe Kids found that these teens often have parents who do the same thing. More than half of teens said they have seen a parent talking on the phone while driving, and 28 percent have been riding in a car with a parent who was texting. Ten percent of teens killed in car crashes last year were distracted by cell phones. Thirty-one percent told researchers they had felt unsafe in the past while their parents were driving.
Parent involvement seems to be the missing component to keeping kids safe. In a study released last year, AAA found that nearly half of parents reported they wanted their teens to get "a lot of practice," yet only 1 in 4 mentioned practicing in a variety of conditions, such as bad weather, heavy traffic or on unfamiliar roads.
Forty-seven percent of parents told AAA that even after their kids receive their license, there was still at least one road condition that made them uncomfortable allowing their teens to drive in without supervision. Yet parents don't take the next step and ensure supervised practice in those conditions.
A driver's license may be kid's first step into autonomous adulthood, but they aren't ready to go it alone just yet. NHTSA is urging parents this week to set clear rules for the road for teens with the "5 to Drive" campaign. Many of the rules seem like no-brainers: don't speed, don't drink and drive and always wear your seat belt. Such rules are good reminders for new drivers, however, who may feel invincible on the road. The feds are also encouraging parents to keep passengers out of the car and tell their kids to put down the cell phone while driving. Advice parents might want to heed themselves, 31 percent of teens reported feeling unsafe while a parent was driving.