The number of drivers ages 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes has decreased 56 percent over a 20-year period measured by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which released results of a new teen driver study today. Increased seat-belt use, graduated drivers license programs, and higher-priced gasoline have all contributed to the decline.
If the results bring some parents a measure of comfort, they should also concern other road users. Teen drivers still have higher crash rates than any other age group, and the majority of people killed in accidents involving these inexperienced motorists are people other than the drivers themselves.
Nearly 30 percent of those killed in crashes involving teen drivers were in another car, and 27 percent were the teen's passengers, according to the AAA study. Pedestrian and bicyclists accounted for about 10 percent of the fatalities. Occupants of other vehicles sustained almost half the injuries in crashes involving teen drivers.
"This data confirms that the impact of their crashes extend well beyond the teen who is behind the wheel," said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Since teens drive more during the summer than any other season, this insight is a timely reminder to everyone – drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists – to be mindful when sharing the roads with young drivers."
It's also a sobering reminder that summer months are often the deadliest for teens. Even as the number of teen-involved fatal crashes has dropped from 6,000 in 1994 to 2,614 in 2013, the 100 days following Memorial Day are typically the ones where a disproportionate number of teens die. Teen fatalities increase 43 percent during summer months, according to a previous AAA analysis.
That increase makes some sense, as teens are out of school and clocking more miles for recreational purposes. Logic aside, it nonetheless underscores the need for parents and teens alike to take the summer months seriously.
"Putting our teens behind the wheel is the most dangerous thing we do as parents, and summer is an especially deadline time," said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.
Motor-vehicle crashes are the top cause of death for Americans at every age between 11 and 29, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.