Teen Drivers and How to Keep Them Safe on the Road

In our practice, we see a lot of car crash victims. We see the pain and the consequences of crashes every day. The road can be a dangerous place. Many of us are also parents who have or will have children on those roads.

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If you think teenage children of attorneys are significantly different from anyone else’s, let us assure you that they are not. However.

We do have the advantage of context, knowledge, and perspective. We know what’s out there to influence teen drivers, good and bad. We have seen the tragic effects of car crashes on families. We hope that, by sharing, we can help you and your teenagers make the road safer for everyone.

The Stats Quo – Teen Driving Fatalities in North Carolina

The first step to solving a problem is to admit you have one. Perhaps your teen is a conscientious driver – that’s absolutely terrific! But they may have friends who aren’t, and no one wants their friends to become a statistic. Especially one of these.

North Carolina’s Teen Fatality Rate Is 64% Higher Than the National Average

It’s the third-highest rate in the country at 2.36 teen driver deaths per 10,000 licensed drivers under 19 years old. For perspective, there were 42 teen driver deaths in North Carolina in 2017. In New York, a state with 42% more licensed teen drivers, there were only 19.

Teen Driver Deaths Rose By 12% in 2020 – a Year With Less Driving

According to the North Carolina Highway Patrol, a total of 142 teens died on North Carolina roads between January 1 and November 20, 2020. While we do not know the methodologies used to gather the data, that number dwarfs the number of teen fatalities recorded by the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2019, which was 80. We’ve already analyzed the effect of COVID-19 on car crashes, but if these numbers are comparable, they’re alarming.

In 2019, 47% of Teen Fatalities Regardless of Driver Age Were Unbelted

The NCDOT’s annual Crash Facts book shows that teens, whether drivers or passengers, are still engaging in risky behavior and not wearing their seat belts. Why they were not buckled in is a matter of speculation, but we believe it may come down to two factors: teens are more prone to risky behavior, and/or they are not getting proper example behavior from their parents.

Teen Traffic Deaths: Distractions, Drinking, or Other?

If a random person were asked the cause of teen driving deaths, the two most common answers would likely be drinking and distractions. But does actual data bear that out?  The 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey notes that among U.S. high school students that drove, 5.4% of those drivers drove when they’d been drinking in the past 30 days.

Meanwhile, the same study revealed that 39% of those teen drivers texted or emailed while driving in the past 30 days. Additionally, 43.1% of U.S. high school students surveyed said they did not always wear a seat belt when riding in a car they weren’t driving.

Among the most dangerous distractions teens face on the road are other teens, namely passengers. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics indicate that the presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk for unsupervised teen drivers. In other words, without an adult in the car with them, teens distract each other. Further, the data showed that the crash risk increased with each additional teen present.

Teen Deaths and Injuries on North Carolina Roads (and Their Causes)

In North Carolina, in 2019, alcohol was noted as a factor in 446 crashes in which a teen was injured, with nine fatalities. On the other hand, distracted driving was noted as a factor in 2,145 crashes in which a teen was injured, with five fatalities. Speed was noted as a factor in 1,327 injury crashes and 33 deaths. It’s worth noting that these need not be mutually exclusive – a drunk, distracted, speeding teen driver may well check all the boxes.

This all begs the question: is there anything we can do to help ensure our teens are safe on the roads, given their inexperience behind the wheel?

Distracted Driving Apps Might Help Curb Teen Car Accidents and Deaths

Practically every teen has a smartphone. They’re more apt to have social media as well. And that’s hard for teens to ignore. That ping they hear which signals them to reach for their phones? It’s addicting. Physiologically addicting. Read this fascinating blog to find out why our brains can prevent us from ignoring the ping.

Leave it to technology to solve a technology problem. New apps are approaching the issue in a number of ways to ensure we’re focused on the road and not the phone. According to DMV.org, these apps offer safety features that can:

  • Mute text alerts
  • Send calls to voicemail
  • Send auto-replies via text that the person is driving and cannot respond
  • Some will even send alerts to parents

With numerous apps that can help curb distracted driving, we cannot review them all, and we do not officially recommend any particular one. You should investigate all the options and choose the one with the features that meet your specific needs and work on your specific phone.

You can search your app purveyor of choice to see what’s on offer (including searching for the apps below), read reviews, and compare features. Here are some which offer more interesting ways to cut distracted driving than simply a locked phone.

Note that mobile service providers like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon may offer apps and features designed to help limit texting and driving. Ask your carrier about those apps and features.

OneTap works much the same way as AT&T Drivemode. It prohibits texting while driving, manages your texts and calls while you’re on the road, and lets those texting you know that you’re driving.

OMW aims to eliminate one of the most common reasons for texting while driving – requesting or sharing an arrival time. The app lets you invite people to follow your trip, know where you are, and about when you’ll arrive.

Lifesaver is a parent-controlled app that locks a connected phone when a car is in motion. Once the vehicle comes to a stop, the phone is unlocked and can be used.

Down for the Count is an app that actually rewards teens for safe driving habits through a pledge system. Teens pledge to drive safely, and others can sponsor them. The more safe miles they travel, the more they’ll earn from their sponsors.

DriveSafe.ly® is an app that will read your texts and emails to you. It will announce callers by name and has auto-on functionality. You can set it to auto-respond as well, so you never need to interact with your phone while driving.

Devices That Track Driving Behavior

Apps are entirely software-driven solutions. There are, of course, ways around them and leave it to teens to know how to circumvent the technology. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t necessarily depend on their phones, you might consider a hardware-based solution.

Again, we’re not endorsing anything. You should always investigate and consider any solution to decide if it meets your particular needs. There are options available online, but you should do your due diligence and research them heavily. While most of the apps are free, the devices are likely to require purchase.

One such option is TRUCE, which offers a device/system/app package that can record braking, acceleration, speed, cornering, and key driving events, showing the scores on the app for the driver – or the driver’s parents – to view. This Bluetooth technology device attaches under the rearview mirror and pairs the teen’s app with the cell phone to help curb impulses to check, chat, or text. The phone screen goes into a screen-lock mode when the car starts moving, and only 911 or designated phone numbers are accessible. This technology can also rate driving patterns and phone usage on a scoring system.

Some vehicles come with features that enable you to track driver behaviors, limit speed, and reduce the distraction of a cell phone. That’s right – the car itself may have features to encourage safer driving and reduce distractions. You may have access to a feature that could keep your teen safe and not even realize it.

And while there are apps available, your phone may include standard features that accomplish much of what you want! Features in Android and iOS already allow for device tracking, and there are some parental controls built-in (though many focus on content and not necessarily use while driving). Investigate these features, and see if they’ll do what you need them to do.

Distracted Driving Organizations and Initiatives to Raise Awareness and Change Behavior

Change comes from within, so the saying goes. Some would consider apps and devices that regulate or monitor behavior to be treating the symptom and not the cause. There are programs and initiatives designed to educate young drivers and stop bad behaviors before they start.

End Distracted Driving offers education, webinars, statistics, resources, and information to help others promote safe driving habits. Our firm has partnered with EndDD.org and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) to offer a distracted driving educational program to area high schools.

It has been exceptionally well received by more than 300,000 students in 44 states and Canada. And it is recognized by traffic safety experts, including the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Governors Highway Safety Association, as one of the most effective programs for teens.

The program results from efforts of psychologists and teen safe-driving experts to integrate behavioral science, behavior change theory, and teen-targeted persuasion principles specifically designed to avoid any potential teen backlash of feeling as though someone is trying to restrict their freedom and rights (which may happen with apps or devices).

People Against Distracted Driving aims to raise awareness and reduce distracted driving among teens. The organization is on Facebook and Twitter.

Driving Skills for Life is an initiative through Ford Motor Company that seeks to train teen drivers and asks them to take a safe driving pledge. Impact Teen Drivers is a non-profit dedicated to helping keep teens safe on the road, and also asks teens to take a safe driving pledge.

Many Organizations, One Goal: Safer Teen Drivers

There are dozens of these organizations, and all of them share the goal of safer roads for teens. It’s easy to get involved, and they have many resources that you can use to discuss safe driving habits and the dangers of distracted driving with your teen.

Almost every auto insurer has some program aimed at teens, offering resources, pledges, and even apps and devices to help parents and teens create and maintain safe driving habits. Good behaviors are often rewarded with lower insurance premiums or even rebates.

10 Tips for Families: Parents and Teens are a Safe Driving Team

  1. Start discussions early, well before teens reach driving age. A lot of teens look forward to the rite of passage that is driving. Why not get a head start on safety, skills, and frank discussion?
  2. Communicate openly with teenage drivers about expectations and responsibilities.
  3. Take a pledge with your teen, like this one from the Centers for Disease Control or the YES! I WILL family pledge and safe driving agreement from EndDD.org.
  4. Set a good example for your teen driver. Do you drive the speed limit, wear your seatbelt, and avoid dangerous behaviors (such as texting and driving)? Teens who see their parents engage in risky or reckless behavior behind the wheel may be more likely to engage in such behaviors themselves.
  5. Know what risks teens face. Joyriding, texting and driving, not wearing seatbelts, and drinking and driving are all dangerous behaviors your teen could engage in. Don’t forget speeding, which is another dangerous behavior typical to teens. Establish rules and enforce them, and don’t ignore any warning signs or opportunities. For example, during the holidays, alcohol may be more accessible, so keep an eye on your teen.
  6. Drive with your kids for longer than required. Although North Carolina, like many other states, has a graduated licensing program, it can never hurt to spend more time with your teen while he or she is learning to drive. Studies show it can take as many as 1,500 miles of driving in all conditions before a teen has enough experience to be considered a competent – and safe – driver.
  7. Monitor your teen. We’ve already discussed apps that reduce the opportunity to drive distracted and monitor teens’ behavior behind the wheel. You might also consider a device like a dashcam.
  8. Take advantage of the features already built into your devices and vehicles. Many phones already have tracking features built into their operating systems. Some vehicles have features integrated into their entertainment systems that enable you to track and monitor the car, control features, and so on. You may already have everything you need, so read the owner’s manuals and do your research.
  9. Enroll in an education course with your kids. Driver education programs exist that can be really helpful in reminding both teen drivers – and their parents – how to stay safe on North Carolina roadways. Not only can they help develop young drivers’ skills, but they could also even net you a discount on your insurance premium.
  10. Give teens the tools to become safer drivers. You can find them with a bit of searching. For example, exchange.aaa.com/safety/teen-driver-safety has tips for parents and safety resources for teen drivers.

Safer Teen Drivers, Fewer Family Tragedies

We see more than our fair share of car crash tragedies. We have to help families pick up the pieces often. Many of these tragedies are entirely preventable. We want more teens driving safely and responsibly, so we see fewer family tragedies.

We admit that as parents, we sometimes get frustrated if our kids don’t answer our calls, especially when we don’t know they are driving.  But we’d rather them get to their destination safely and then respond rather than try to answer and wreck on the way.

Talk to your teen(s). Help them develop their skills. Set a good example, and communicate openly. Driving is a privilege, after all. You can’t guarantee their safety on the road, but with a bit of help, they’ll be able to better watch out for themselves.