Teens are in the news. A recent government survey of high school students showed that distracted driving, especially texting and emailing, is way up. But contrary to what you might expect, teen driving deaths are down overall. So should we be concerned or excited? Let’s take a look at some recent teen driving trends and try to figure it out.
Teenage driving statistics
The good news? Teen driving fatalities are down about 64 percent since 1975. Yay!
The bad news? Though young driver fatalities are down overall, car crashes are still the number-one killer of teens. In fact, teen drivers between 16 and 19 are 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than older drivers.
Distracted driving is up
In 2010, 3,092 people were killed — and an estimated 416,000 injured — in crashes involving a distracted driver.
Although state and federal governments have been cracking down on distracted driving, a recent Center for Disease Control survey (PDF) shows that 58 percent of high school seniors still admit to texting or emailing behind the wheel. Sigh.
For their part, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched the “Stop the Texts, Stop the Wrecks” campaign, which urges drivers to designate texters, much like we designate drivers when we drink. Whether it’ll work or not remains to be seen. But considering most teens are willing to put even the most personal information on Facebook, there’s a chance that they’d allow someone else to see their texts too.
Other dangerous driving behaviors are down
Interestingly, as distracted driving among teens rises, the last 10 years have seen a decrease in drunk driving and an increase in seat belt use. This seems to show that teens do think about safety … at least to some extent.
Safer cars and graduated license programs can also take some credit for the decline in teen fatalities. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, crash rates among teenage drivers have declined between 10 and 30 percent in states that have adopted tiered-licensing systems (click on your state to see teen driver requirements).
Teens driving less
Another trend that could be contributing to the decrease in teen fatalities is that teens are driving less. For many, getting a license at 16 simply isn’t the rite of passage it once was. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey found that the average annual number of miles driven by people ages 16 to 34 dropped 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.
And a new study by the University of Michigan found that only 6 in 10 Americans ages 17 to 19 had a drivers license (as opposed to 30 years ago when it was 8 in 10). That’s quite a decline, and researchers think they know why it’s happening. Modern-day factors — the high price of owning and maintaining a car and the convenience of the Internet — seem to weigh heavily on their decision. After all, who needs to drive to see friends when you can IM, Facebook, and text with them?