Driving Guide for Teens and Students

It should come as no surprise that teens are the most vulnerable population of drivers in the U.S. After all, they are the least experienced behind the wheel, which makes them a bit reckless, a bit risky, and very expensive to insure.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), teen driver crash rates are three times higher than for drivers over 20 years old per mile driven, and motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 13- to 19-year-olds. What’s more, in 2013 (the most recent data available), 2,524 drivers in that age group died in auto accidents, accounting for 9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drivers between the ages of 15 and 24 make up just 14 percent of the U.S. population, but they also account for 30 percent ($19 billion) of the “total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males” and 28 percent ($7 billion) of the “total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females.”

These facts and statistics come with significant and far-reaching consequences for everything from insurance premiums to new teen driver safety initiatives designed to curb such startling figures. What follows are some of the most important details about the risks and expenses of teens behind the wheel.

Most experts agree that the root cause of teen driving risk is a lack of experience, and a 2012 study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports this claims.

According to the study’s lead author, Bruce Simons-Morton of the division of epidemiology, statistics, and prevention research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the NIH, novice teen drivers are almost four times as likely to end up in a car accident or close-calls as adult drivers. Moreover, compared to older, experienced drivers, risky driving behavior is five times more prevalent among teens newly behind the wheel.

“If you think about driving as a complex physical and psychological task, the crash rates we observed look a lot like the classic learning curve,” says Simons-Morton. “And it’s not just about learning how to drive the vehicle. It’s also about developing safe driving judgment and learning how to process a lot of information at once while you’re behind the wheel.”

According to Simons-Morton, this study is the first “naturalistic assessment” of risky teen driving, meaning that rather than have teens merely respond to a survey, he and his colleagues directly observed their driving habits first through various technologies installed in their vehicles.

For 18 months between 2006 and 2008, the NIH team studied 42 newly licensed teens, comprising 22 females and 20 males who attended high school or home school in Virginia. To provide a comparative backdrop, the study also assessed the driving habits of 55 parents operating the same vehicles. Here are a few of the study’s most interesting findings:

—Over the study period, teens experienced significantly higher rates of crashes or near-crashes compared with parents—37 crashes and 242 near-crashes compared to just two crashes and 32 close-calls among the adults.

—Crash rates rapidly decline after the first six to nine months behind the wheel, even though they remain much higher than experienced adults driving the same vehicles.

—Distractions such as texting, operating an Mp3 player, or talking on a cell phone while driving were the leading causes of crashes.