As dusk fell, snow began to flock the trees and street outside our home. My 16-year-old son stood crestfallen upon hearing my response to his request to drive over the hills and through the woods to his girlfriend’s house. My newly minted driver quickly recovered his willful teenage countenance, asking, “Can I see the data to support your position?”
I was ready. Car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for 16- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. The risk of death in a car will never be higher than during these years — and the absolute highest risk period is the month after a kid gets his or her license.
Teens overestimate their skills, they follow too closely, they travel too fast, they are prone to impulsive decisions. Risk rises for teens when they are driving in the dark, in winter conditions, with deer jumping about, while they’re messing with a phone or radio, and especially when there are one or more other teens in the car. Risk rises hugely if alcohol is involved. There’s some good news: All those white-knuckle experiences with your student driver do pay o , as risk is lower for teen drivers who have had more practice.
A number of states have enacted graduated driving programs that reflect this evidence, regulating when teen drivers can be behind the wheel and who can be in the vehicle with them. And the results, so far, are encouraging. Experience is what any new driver needs most — best gotten alone, in the daytime, well rested and alert, on familiar streets with a known destination.