Preventing the No. 1 Killer of Teenagers in America: Unsafe Driving


With all the often-discussed dangers of drugs, drinking, bullying, and crime, it’s not difficult to overlook the fact that the No. 1 cause of death for teens is motor-vehicle crashes. Yet the reality is that more than 2,600 of young adults aged 15 to 19 years old were involved in fatal accidents in 2013 —and another 130,000 were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

STORY: The Teen Driver Risk Parents May Not Understand

So in recognition of this week’s National Teen Driver Safety Week, Michelin commissioned a study of more than 1,000 adults about driving and the safety advice they’ve received — and offered — to shed some light on how people learn the best rules of the road. It’s useful intel for parents, in fact, considering that the authority most often cited as a “source of useful driving advice” is “Dad,” according to 52 percent of respondents. (“Mom,” meanwhile, came in second with 32 percent of the vote, and drivers’ education instructors ranked third, with 27 percent).

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Still, drivers on the whole don’t hold back when it comes to doling out their tips — 75 percent of the adults surveyed say that they have instructed someone else while a passenger in the car — despite the distinct unlikelihood that every driver actually is as proficient as they say they are. For instance, 81 percent of those Michelin surveyed said that they themselves were “great” or nearly great drivers, while just 57 percent said the same of their sibling, 54 percent of their spouse or partner. (Grandma and Grandpa hold the lowest ranks, in comparison, with 11 percent and 20 percent of the vote, respectively). Who then causes all the accidents out there? Tellingly, 62 percent of those surveyed report that the blame lies with “someone else.”

In an effort to get a truly broad range of actionable advice to help teens become safer drivers, Yahoo’s Global News Anchor Katie Couric has partnered with Michelin on a new public service campaign: #SharingSafety. The campaign, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, urges drivers to offer their driving tips with the aim of educating all.

Parents, though, remain the most essential part of the safety mission, Kara Macek, director of communications at the Governors Highway Safety Association, tells Yahoo Parenting. And they can start by taking a look at what they do themselves when they get behind the wheel. “Parents have to be a good role model and actually be the driver that they want their teen to be,” she says, “because teens are very adept at spotting hypocrisy and will recognize when their mom or dad says one thing and does another.”

Teen drivers’ most dangerous behaviors, according to the NHTSA, include alcohol use (20 percent of the drivers killed in crashes had been drinking); distracted driving (318 people were killed in wrecks that involved a distracted teen driver); speeding (a factor in 42 percent of the aforementioned crashes); and passengers. “Data shows that a teenage driver is 2.5 times more likely to engage in risky behaviors when driving with one teenage passenger, and three times more likely with multiple teenage passengers,” the organization details in a report promoting its “5 to Drive” safety campaign.

Thankfully, the fifth trouble area for teens is an easily preventable one: driving or riding without a seatbelt. “The sad truth is that in more than half of the fatalities, teens are unbuckled,” Macek tells Yahoo Parenting. “Seatbelts really do save lives. Parents need to remind their teens that seatbelts should be used, every seat, every time, no matter how short a distance they’re going. They really need to be a broken record about it because while the first order of business is to avoid a crash, the second order is to survive it, and seatbelts make a huge difference.” Yet the NHTSA reports that only 25 percent of parents “have had a serious talk with their kids about the key components of driving,” including belts.

Moms and dads “need to set expectations up front,” Macek declares, suggesting that parents insist point-blank on phone-free driving and a limited number of fellow teen passengers. “Teen are overrepresented in crashes and fatalities largely due to the fact that they’re not experienced, so the most important thing that parents can do is just be engaged in the issue,” she adds. “We are all so pressed for time that it’s hard to do, but it’s critical.” It is, after all, a matter of life and death.

(Top photo: Getty Images)

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