Four Major Causes of Car Accidents Involving Teenage Drivers

Getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage for many American teenagers. If you have a 16 or 17 year old teenager, they are probably excited about the freedom that comes with driving. However, young drivers are inexperienced, and this can sometimes lead to car accidents. On this page, I will discuss four major causes of motor vehicle accidents involving teenage drivers. Understanding these risks and speaking to your teens about them can minimize their risk of being involved in these types of accidents.

Four Causes of Teenage Driving Accidents

  1. Alcohol: You might think that because the legal drinking age is 21, teens won’t have many accidents related to alcohol. But, we all know that not everyone waits until they are 21 to start drinking. Teenagers are more vulnerable to the risks of drinking while intoxicated because they already have less experience than adults with driving, and they have less experience drinking than adults. Teenagers also have less self-control than adults, and are less likely to understand and consider risks of their behavior. There is evidence that suggests that teenagers may be less sensitive to the signals from their brains that they are impaired. This can lead to erratic driving and, unfortunately, car accidents. (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Reducing underage drinking: A collective responsibility. In: Bonnie RJ, O’Connell ME, editors. Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking. Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2004.)
  2. Peer pressure: Peer pressure goes hand in hand with teenagers and driving. Teenagers like to race, speed, dare each other to do things, load up the car with friends, and blast music while driving. All of these things can greatly increase the chances of newly licensed drivers getting into car accidents. In a data analysis, it was shown that teenagers who had multiple passengers in the car had magnified risks of getting into an accident, regardless of whether the accident was caused by mistakes in driving, speeding, or intoxication.
  3. Lack of driving experience: In a study done by McKnight and McKnight in 2003 on police reports, about 2,000 newly licensed drivers crashed because of reasons pointing to inexperience as a major contributor. (McKnight JA, McKnight SA. Young novice drivers: Careless or clueless. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2003;35:921–925.) In another study, it was estimated that about 70% new drivers errors were attributable to inexperience. (Treat JR, Tumbas NS, McDonald ST, Shinar D, Hume RD, Mayer RE. Tri-level study of the causes of traffic accidents: Final report vol. I. Causal factor tabulation and assessments.Bloomington: Indiana University, Institute for Research in Public Safety; 1979. DOT-805 085.) Lastly, another study showed that searching for hazards, speed adjustment, and attention were determined to be main causes of newly licensed driver accidents. (Gregersen NP. Young car drivers: Why are they over represented in car accidents? How can driver training improve their situation? Linkoping: Swedish National Road and Transport Institute; 1996. VTI Rapport 409A.)
  4. Fatigue: Many teenagers have jobs that they work at night and on the weekends, go out with their friends and drive home at night, and pull all nighters. Teenagers tend to think that they are able to stay up all night without affecting their ability to drive. The statistics of accidents involving sleep deprived drivers tell a different story. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic and Safety, driving after only 4-5 hours of sleep, compared to seven hours or more is similar to the risks of driving with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or slightly above the legal limit in the United States.

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