Car crashes involving teens expected to increase as summer begins

Jun. 7—The mixture of summer break and reduced COVID-19 restrictions could possibly make the nation's "100 deadliest days" for teens a bit more dangerous this year, experts said.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day from 2010 to 2019, more than 7,000 people nationwide died in crashes involving a driver between ages 16 and 18 behind the wheel. Traffic experts warn young drivers against speeding and distracted driving that could result in a car accident.

Sharon Fife, president of D&D Driving School in Kettering, has a busy summer ahead of her as eager teenagers enroll in driving courses in hopes of getting their drivers license. The school has had a waitlist since their reopening.

The crash rate for 2021 has already surpassed 2020 as most people limited outdoor activity last year per COVID-19 guidelines. Fife said she anticipates the rates will continue to increase as people, teens especially, start to go out more.

At the driving school, Fife said the student drivers are taught defensive driving skills and she recommends parents "keep them on a short leash for a while."

"As soon as they get one person in the car, their crash rate goes up. I would limit passengers as much as possible because when you have new drivers, they have a hard time dealing with distractions. As you increase passengers and distractions in that vehicle it goes up more and more. So that is the biggest thing I would tell parents to limit," she said.

In Ohio, more than 230 teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes and more than 250 people were killed in crashes with teens in the driver's seat during that time period, according to AAA data.

"Memorial Day through Labor Day, that's when the schools are out, and the teen drivers have more time to be out on the road. They don't necessarily drive with purpose and what I mean by that is we want them to have purposeful driving, going to maybe work or going to practice, but sometimes they're out driving between friends and things like that," said Pat Brown, supervisor of AAA Driving Services.

The top cause for crashes is speed, with distracted driving as a close second, Brown said.

"People can multitask but it's hard to concentrate fully on one thing or the other so once we're driving and talking on the phone or driving and doing something else, we're dividing our attention and it takes away from something or the other," Brown said.

Both D&D Driving School and AAA Driving Services warn teen drivers against texting or talking on the phone when driving.

Sgt. Nathan Dennis of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said the top cause for crashes is following too close behind other drivers and encourages newer drivers to be attentive at the wheel.

"I think the most important thing to remind young drivers about is to maintain their focus on the roadway, pay attention to what's going on around them and just continue to stay focused on the task of driving," he said. "Obviously the summer months seem to always be a little bit busier. If you look at the 100 days, it's 27% of the calendar year but is attributed to 1/3 of our annual total fatalities roughly."

Lack of driving experience is also a contributing factor to why teen drivers are more likely to be involved in a crash.

"It takes teens about five years to become experienced drivers and in those five years we do things and we learn from them. Most of these teens that are out of school only had their license, maybe about three years at the most so they're still in that learning process," Brown said.