Teen-Spirited Driving Increases During the Pandemic [Updated]



Teen drivers aged 16-19 and their passengers accounted for speeding-related fatalities in greater proportions than any other age group, said the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in analyzing data over a five-year period from 2015 to 2019.

During that time, 4,930 teen drivers and their passengers died in 43 percent of speeding-related crashes, versus 30 percent of drivers in all other age groups. The GHSA’s report released last month, Teens and Speeding: Breaking the Deadly Cycle, analyzed the driver’s sex, inability to control the vehicle, and likelihood that the driver and occupants are buckled or not.


Speed kills. Speeding caused the death of approximately one-third of all fatalities in motor vehicle crashes. The higher incidence among 16-19 year-old drivers is due primarily to their inability to react to risky situations and speeding only exacerbates the problem. The GHSA says this isn’t because they’re not taught to mind traffic conditions or speed limits, it is due to years of having seen their parents or other adults speeding, whether it was intended to reach a certain destination in time, or to keep pace with traffic conditions, even if it meant exceeding speed limits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens in the U.S.


Lack of experience among 16-17 year-old teen drivers equates to the highest risk of fatalities in a crash, while those 18-19 year-olds are shown to crash later at night, midnight to 5 a.m., and on highways or freeways. If you recall your parents telling you not to take friends along for the ride, it’s because the risk for teen drivers to be involved in a speeding-related fatal crash increases as you add more riders. Teen drivers are a danger to others on the road, with the highest risk of death to their own passengers, occupants of vehicles caught up in a crash, and others like pedestrians and cyclists.


In every age group where fatalities due to speeding occurred, males accounted for the highest proportion, although the disparity diminished with age. Among those 16-19 teenage drivers involved in those crashes, 36-percent were identified as males, and 28-percent as females.


Departures, where the rubber no longer meets the road, when coupled with speeding, were a factor in 71-percent of the crashes involving 16 and 17-year old drivers. While notable, the GHSA did say that even in the 50-and-over age group, the safest when compared to all other groups, it’s still 52-percent, an indication that it’s never good when you take an unintended off-highway excursion. Rollovers that occur while speeding, and that result in fatalities, are highest among 16-year olds at 41-percent, dropping to 35 percent by age 17, and declining from there.

Buckling up isn’t just the law. Almost half of all teen drivers killed while speeding were unrestrained, and as teens aged and became more confident in their driving skills, the number of fatalities for unrestrained teen drivers 16 years of age went from 123, to 242 at age 17, 331 at age 18, and 374 at age 19 during the study period.

What’s astounding is that there has been a spike in crashes during the pandemic, and speeding on highways with less congestion due to COVID-19 is cited as a causal factor in motor vehicle deaths during this time. In the metro area in which I live, I assumed it was inattention or driving under the influence when hearing of crashes occurring on uncrowded roadways, especially freeways where traffic cams were showing hardly any motorists whatsoever. Not so said the GHSA, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 11,260 people were killed on U.S. roadways in the third quarter of 2020, a 13.1% increase compared to the same period in 2019. Looking at the first nine months of 2020, the data shows that 28,190 people died in crashes, a 4.6% increase from the year before. Traffic deaths rose even though there were fewer drivers on the road due to the pandemic.

Another cause that was unforeseen is the amount of time parents have had to train their teenage drivers during the pandemic. Again, you might assume that in working from home, they would have more time rather than less, but in reality, increased demands on their time and a higher workload have led to a reduction in training time. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that teens with actively-involved parents were 50-percent less likely to be involved in a crash, 71-percent less likely to drive under the influence, and 30-percent less likely to use a cell phone when driving, as compared to teens with parents who were uninvolved. These teens were also 50-percent more likely to buckle up.

[Images: Governors Highway Safety Association]

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