With June upon us, days are longer, the sun is warmer, and summer is fast approaching. June is a time for celebrating fathers as well as the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year. It is the month when many attempt their first beach trip of the year and bring the family out for a good old-fashioned camping trip. Fresh fruit is ripening, and farmers’ markets are in full swing. Amidst all this excitement, high school students are nearing one of the biggest milestones of their lives: high school graduation and the true beginning of their adult lives.
Because graduation for teens means the end of high school responsibilities, it often follows that graduates find themselves with more free time than they know what to do with. While some teens find jobs at local stores or take summer classes to prepare for college, others take the few months following the end of high school to regroup, relax, and plan for their future. Because many of these young adults are also licensed drivers, you are likely to find far more teen drivers on the road in the summer months.
In the state of Nevada, a person can obtain a learner’s permit and begin driving when he or she reaches the age of 15 years, 6 months.  This means that by the time many teens graduate at the age of 17 or 18, they have already been licensed drivers for one to two years. While this is not negligible, this does not make high school graduates what we might consider “experienced” drivers. This lack of experience is already cause for concern; consider also the additional fact that while a teen may appear to be a full-grown adult person, his or her brain is still underdeveloped and will remain so until roughly the age of 25. Teens are still developing the ability to think rationally, make good judgements, and consider the long-term consequences of their actions.  They look like grown-ups, and may fancy themselves to be mature and capable, but they have a long way to go in terms of cognitive growth and development.
As one might guess, teens’ underdeveloped brains can affect their ability to drive a car safely. According to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a teen driver is almost 10 times more likely than an adult to be involved in a motor vehicle accident. He or she is also more likely to be involved in a serious or fatal crash.  In fact, if you look at deaths among all teens between the ages of 13 and 19 years during 2010, 33 percent of these fatalities were due to car crashes. Out of all 16-year-old drivers on the road, nearly 20 percent will find themselves in an accident within their first year of driving a car. 
The high risk to teen drivers is due in part to their willingness to engage in risky behaviors on the road. Risky behavior includes, but is not limited to, speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, talking or texting on a cellphone while driving, using drugs or alcohol while driving, or driving while drowsy. Speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all crashes involving teen drivers in passenger vehicles, and speeding behavior can increase over time as teens gain confidence behind the wheel. Seatbelt use is lowest among teen drivers, and the lack of a seatbelt is a factor in the majority of fatal crashes amongst this age group. One in three teens who texts admits to having done so while driving, and use of a cell phone greatly increases a driver’s risk of getting in an accident. Drivers can also be distracted by things as simple as a radio, food item, or passenger in the vehicle. Drinking underage is illegal, but many teens engage in the practice anyways. As a result, nearly 20 percent of fatal crashes among teenage drivers involves the use of drugs or alcohol. Even for those teens who abstain from drug and alcohol use, drowsy driving can pose an unexpected risk. Driving while fatigued can affect judgement, reaction time, and decision making much like drugs or alcohol. 
If you parent a teen driver, make sure you talk to your child frequently about the risks associated with driving a motor vehicle and the huge responsibility that any driver is undertaking. While parents may feel that they are never getting through to their teens, involved parents can actually make a huge difference in how their children behave on the road. Make seatbelts a family habit, and talk to your child about distractions, drug and alcohol abuse, and speeding. Model safe driving for your teen whenever you are on the road, and set reasonable and healthy curfews to reduce the risk of accidents and make sure your teen gets plenty of rest.
If you notice a teen on the road who is driving erratically, irresponsibly, too quickly, or with unsafe distractions, put a wide berth between your vehicle and theirs. If necessary, alert the authorities.  It may be a bummer for the teen in question, but your responsibility is to keep other drivers on the road safe from harm. If you find yourself injured in an accident with a teen driver, move out of the way of traffic if possible, seek appropriate medical attention, and reach out to a personal injury attorney to make sure you know your rights as an injured party.
Image Credit: State Farm