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Safety on the Road

Keeping your teen safe behind the wheel

This year, like every year, more than 5,000 teens will likely die on America’s roads. National Teen Driver Safety Week, established by Congress in 2007, aims to focus attention on the nation’s epidemic of teen car crashes and to find solutions.

One of the biggest dangers facing teenagers may be sitting right next to them — in the driver’s or passenger’s seat. Nothing kills more teens than car crashes, and little is riskier for new drivers than teen passengers. That’s why newly licensed drivers should wait 1,000 miles or six months before picking up their first teen passenger.

There are many well-known factors that raise a teen driver’s risk of getting in a fatal crash: Speeding, drinking, talking on a cell phone and driving at night are among them. Yet there’s another dangerous factor that recent research shows few teens recognize: Peer passengers.

Just one teen passenger doubles the risk a teen driver will get into a fatal crash; three or more passengers quadruples the risk.

Let’s repeat those statistics:

  • Teen Drivers + Peer Passengers = Higher Fatal Crash Risk
  • 1 passenger = 2x Fatal Crash Risk
  • 3 or more passengers = 4–5x Fatal Crash Risk

Yet a recent study by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that only one in 10 teens knows that giving a friend a ride is dangerous.

The risk is not just for the driver: Another study released in 2008 found that starting at ages 12 to 14, a child passenger’s risk of dying in a crash with a teen driver doubles, and the risk continues to rise for each teen year. Most teen passengers who die in crashes are riding with a teen driver.

Here’s what another survey found:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among American teenagers, killing between 5,000 and 6,000 teenagers every year.
  • No other kind of hazard comes close to claiming as many teenage lives, including homicides (13 percent) and suicides (11 percent). (2002 figures).
  • Teenage drivers account for 12.6 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes.
  • The fatal crash rates among 16- to 19-year-olds is four times that of older drivers.
  • Risk is the highest at age 16, when the fatal crash rate is 40 percent higher than for 18- year-olds and 30 percent higher than for 19-year-olds.

The Enemies

Cell Phones

  • 56 percent of teens said they make and answer phone calls while driving.
  • Talking on a cell phone can double the likelihood of an accident and can slow a young driver’s reaction time to that of a 70-year-old.
  • 13 percent of teens said they send and respond to text messages while driving.


  • 17 percent of teens said speeding is fun.
  • 55 percent of teens said they exceed the speed limit by more than 10 mph.
  • 26 percent of self-identified "aggressive" teen drivers reported speeding by more than 20 mph over the limit.
  • 69 percent of teens who speed said they do so because they want to keep up with traffic.

Peer Pressure

  • 44 percent of teens said they drive more safely without friends in the car.
  • 67 percent of teens said they have felt unsafe when someone else was driving.
  • Only 45 percent said they would definitely speak up if someone were driving in a way that scared them.
  • 37 percent said they would ride with one or more friends who speed in the coming year.

Obviously, teens need to learn to drive as though they really care about their obligations to the safety of their passengers of any age. What does it mean to drive like you care? First of all, it means never putting your friends at risk. Here’s what the teen driving experts at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommend:

  • Teen drivers should not transport child or teen passengers for the first 1,000 miles or 6 months after they get their license.
  • After six months, they should only transport a single teen or child passenger. They should wait another six months before driving more than one teen or child passenger.
  • These precautions will give new drivers time to become familiar with driving without an adult.

And there are other allies in the fight against teen highway deaths:

  • Seat Belts: Wearing lap/shoulder belts can reduce the risk of dying in a crash by 45 percent. Teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use.
  • Curfews: More than 40 percent of teen auto deaths occur between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Almost 60 percent of teens’ night time auto deaths occur before midnight.

Has your teenager made the safe driving promise yet?

  • Ask your teen to sign, with you, the Driving Agreement on this site.
  • Many parents feel they "trust" their teen and so, do not need to complete a safe driving contract. The issue isn't trust though; the issue is safety. And 75 percent of teens say their parents are the best influence in getting them to drive more safely.
  • Use this contract as a model. Feel free to edit it and personalize it to your situation.
  • Sign it and provide a copy to the teenager. For your teen’s sake, do not allow him or her to drive independently until the agreement is negotiated, written, revised, and signed!
  • Set a date to revise it after a period of time during which the teen drives. Schedule the review date and put it on the calendar. On this review date, go through it and change the agreement a little (or a lot) based on experience. Make it stricter if the teen's behavior with the car warrants that. Make it a bit more lenient, perhaps, if the teen is doing well. You can start with a strict contract, but commit to revisit and possibly revise it after a few weeks.

(Download Safe Driving Promise)

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