California’s teen drivers are more at-risk than others on the road

Inexperience behind the wheel, greater tendencies for risk-taking and in-car distractions are reasons why teen drivers are involved in more traffic collisions than more experienced drivers. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds is nearly three times the rate for drivers 20 years and over . Nationwide, 3,114 teens were involved in fatal accidents in 2015, with 610 of those occurring in California, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 1.

Distracted driving, speeding and other factors

Drivers need to focus on one thing when they’re behind the wheel … driving. That means keeping your eyes on the road and continuously scanning for unexpected hazards, other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. Giving into distractions limits response time if you need to brake immediately or avoid something in your path.

Distracted driving is a major factor in a number of crashes involving California teens. The most commonly reported distraction in fatal teen accidents in California is the driver “looked but did not see.” According to NHTSA, this scenario occurs when a driver didn’t see a vehicle or object, such as something in a blind spot or intersection. In other words, they were not paying sufficient attention to what was around them.

1Data sourced from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and its Fatality Analysis Reporting System is from 2015.

Most Commonly Reported Distractions in Fatal Teen Crashes


Looked But Did Not See


Cell Phone Related Distraction


By Other Occupants

Speeding is another factor in fatal teen driving accidents – 26% of teen driving fatalities in California were directly related to speeding in 2015.

Time of day and day of the week are also significant contributing factors when it comes to teen driver collisions. Nearly 31% of teen driver related accidents in California occur between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Many factors contribute to this high accident rate during this time of day, but according to the National Safety Council the leading causes are fatigue from a long day of work or school, rush hour traffic, and darkness where depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision can be compromised.

Weekends are the worst time for teens to drive, but Fridays are especially bad, as 23% of accidents and 21% of fatalities occur on this day of the week.

Teen Vehicle Crashes & Fatalities by Time of Day

Want to see more California teen-driving statistics?
Visit our interactive infographic.

Parental guidance is required

The old saying “do as I say, not as I do” does not apply when it comes to driving. Kids learn from their parents starting at an early age, as they are constantly observing and mimicking their parents’ behavior. Parents must lead by example and put down the distractions if they expect their teens to do the same.

Parents can guide their teens to be responsible drivers by enforcing California’s Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) laws. These laws enable teens to gain valuable driving experience before they are granted full license privileges and parents should be diligent about ensuring their children are adhering to them. In California, licensed teens are restricted from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and cannot drive with any passengers under the age of 20 – with the exception of family members – for the first 12 months. Additionally, cell phone use is prohibited for drivers under the age of 18.

Commit to being a responsible driver

Actions speak louder than words. While teens may promise to behave responsibly when not under their parents’ watchful eyes, they may be tempted to break the rules when driving on their own. Parents can help prevent needless accidents and deaths by having their teens put in writing that they understand the rules for retaining driving privileges, as well as the circumstances under which these privileges would be lost. Contracts are binding, so parents should be sure to discuss the specifics of what they’re signing with their teen before handing over the car keys.

For more tips to reduce the number of teen crashes and fatalities, visit Mercury’s Drive Safe Challenge, a platform for parents and teens to have serious discussions about driving. It includes tips to help parents communicate with their teens about appropriate driving behavior, crash statistics, driving tips, videos and additional resources to help teens stay safe behind the wheel. Californians can also find additional causes of teen driving collisions and how to protect against them.

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