Teen Driving: Danger is Imminent

Teenagers across the nation are learning to drive and reaching the sought after milestone of freedom. Getting a driver’s license is a step towards adulthood, but the dangers of getting involved in a crash are greatly increased with a new driver behind the wheel. 

There’s a reason why the price of car insurance for teenage drivers is so high. According to DoSomething.org, one in five` 16-year-old drivers has an accident within their first year of driving. Although teenagers often tend to believe they are untouchable, their inexperience on the road makes them vulnerable and more susceptible to getting in dangerous crashes. An anonymous junior at DVC shared how they feel about their driving abilities. 

“I said I was a safe driver, not a careful driver,” they said. “There is a difference there.” 

Whether or not being safe and being careful are synonymous is up for discourse. However, there is proof that with the newfound power of having a driver’s license, teenagers don’t always prioritize careful driving. The junior elaborated by providing a story about how their driving almost resulted in a crash. 

“One time I was driving down Inglewood Avenue, and I was going probably 75 or 80, which is not very safe at all,” they said. “But then, somebody turned out [of] one of the side streets and… instead of turning into their own lane, they turned into my lane, kind of cutting me off only going about 20 miles per hour. So I obviously had to swerve around them and my heart dropped a little bit, like I got pretty scared, but I was able to control the car.”

Chloe Orti driving on Sepulveda Boulevard in LA.

Driving over speed limits is a big cause of teenage crashes and casualties. According to NHTSA, in 2019, speeding was a factor of 27 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers between the ages of 15 and 18. Furthermore, according to the CDC, from the ages of 15-20, 31 percent of male drivers and 17 percent of female drivers who were involved in fatal crashes in 2019 were speeding. By following speed limits, teenagers can decrease their chances of becoming a fatality. 

These dangerous driving situations are not exclusive to students at DVC. Teen driving issues are a universal and widespread experience. For instance, Annali Cadmus, a senior at El Segundo High School, mentioned a close call situation that she was recently in when attempting to make a left turn. 

“They were turning because it was a two lane, [so] I could turn into the leftmost lane. And they had the right turn signal on, so they’re supposed to go right. So I could go left and they could go right and we would be fine. But then they went straight and I slammed on my brakes and they slammed on their brakes,” Cadmus said. “And I don’t know how our cars didn’t touch. It was ridiculously close and I was like, ‘Hmm, almost crashed, almost crashed,’” said Cadmus.

A very important factor of driving is the driver’s ability to predict the next moves of the cars around them. This defensive driving technique comes with more practice and experience. Sometimes, the danger for teens isn’t about their own abilities, but rather other drivers that are reckless and could put them in harm’s way. Amy Willard, a mother of a 16 year-old driver, shared her main concerns when it comes to her daughter driving alone. 

“I’m concerned about other drivers just because when I’m driving myself, I see how crazy people drive,” responded Willard. “They’re not paying attention. They’re speeding to go nowhere. And so just knowing what I go through as a driver, I’m just so nervous for her being out there on the road.”

It can be very nerve-racking for parents to allow their teenagers to go off on their own. It can be difficult for parents to trust that their child will be safe when they drive alone, especially considering all of the dangers they may encounter or mistakes they might make.

For instance, a detrimental mistake that many teens make is disregarding seatbelts. According to the CDC, almost half of the teenagers, within the ages of 16 and 19, who died in 2019 weren’t restrained by a seatbelt. Teenagers might make light of it, but a seatbelt can mean the difference between life and death. 

Another common cause of vehicular crashes is distracted driving. For instance, using a phone can be a distraction, and according to NHTSA, dialing a phone number while driving increases a teen’s risk of crashing by six times, and texting while driving increases the risk 23 times. Additionally, NHTSA claims teen drivers are three times more likely to use risky behaviors while driving when they have multiple passengers with them, and the risk of a fatal crash for a teen increases with each added passenger. Willard shared an anecdote of a crash she was in as a teenager that was directly correlated to her being distracted. 

“Right after I got my driver’s license, like within a week, I got into a really bad car accident,” Willard confessed. “I was in my car with my best friend and her boyfriend. We had the music blasting. We were having a good time and I wasn’t really paying attention. And I was looking at two lights ahead… the light had turned green. My light was still red and I ran it and a car came and hit us, T-boned my car, and basically totaled my car.”

A lot of it comes down to the teenage driver’s maturity level. Driving a car is a big responsibility, and teens need to be mentally prepared and exhibit enough maturity to be able to make good decisions on the road and become trustworthy drivers. Studies have shown that even just a few years difference in age can cause a big difference in driving skill. According to the Insurance Institute Institute for Highway Safety, the crash rate for 16-19 year olds is nearly four times the rate for drivers 20 and older. Even more specific, they also mentioned that for 16 year olds the crash rate per mile driven is one and a half times higher than it is for 18-19 year olds. Therefore, even just a few more years of maturity makes a significant difference in the likelihood of being involved in a crash.  

However, alarming statistics aren’t going to deter teenagers from wanting to drive. It just goes to show that driving is not a matter that should be taken lightly. There can be very serious consequences of careless driving, but the more teens gain experience and practice on the road, the more their driving skills will evolve. 

“Most of the stop sign running and red light running was within the first few months of me driving, which was before I crashed,” Cadmus shared. “So I think I got better. I got more scared but I got better.”