Teen-Spirited Driving Increases During the Pandemic [Updated]

Jason R. Sakurai
by Jason R. Sakurai
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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]

Jason R. Sakurai
Jason R. Sakurai

With a father who owned a dealership, I literally grew up in the business. After college, I worked for GM, Nissan and Mazda, writing articles for automotive enthusiast magazines as a side gig. I discovered you could make a living selling ad space at Four Wheeler magazine, before I moved on to selling TV for the National Hot Rod Association. After that, I started Roadhouse, a marketing, advertising and PR firm dedicated to the automotive, outdoor/apparel, and entertainment industries. Through the years, I continued writing, shooting, and editing. It keep things interesting.

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  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Mar 05, 2021

    Well, plus points for the clever headline and many minus points for discussing the 2020 pandemic in connection with data that says it's most recent information is from a year earlier. Or did I miss something? I've been driving for 57 years and have been involved in 2 crashes. One when I was 18 and a guy blew through a stop sign in the intersection I was approaching, and I T-boned his car. The second when I slid through an intersection in a snowstorm that had several inches of snow covering what was more or less ice, and my vehicle was T-boned. No injuries to anyone in either. So, I survived my teen age years -- before the seatbelt era -- intact, through not without taking some modest risks. Those risks did not include the consumption of alcohol while driving, and once I was driving cars with seatbelts, I used them regularly. The first that I can remember was my Dad's 1970 Volvo 144s, which he bought while I was in college. I had some very good lap/shoulder belt combinations up front that were super easy to use. Even better, my three daughters survived their teenage years in the 90s and oughties without getting in a crash. I'm kinda curious what planet Mr. Sakuri lives on, where "keeping up with the traffic, even while it's exceeding the speed limit" is a bad thing. While agree that modeling aggressively bad driving is probably not good for your kids, apart from the consumption of alcohol, I don't think that's the real issue. It's been well-established that teen-agers' perception of risk is pretty attenuated, and today's cars are so easy to drive fast (as compared to the cars of my teen-age years), I think that even unimpaired by alcohol (or in those enlightened states, marijuana) they really have no idea how close they are to serious danger when hurtling along at speed. Kind of like the snap oversteer of first generation Porsche 911s, today's car's don't let you know close you are to trouble until you're in really BIG trouble that is way beyond your ability to deal with it. I don't know how to deal with this except, perhaps, to have "1 strike and you're out" DUI laws for people under 25 and, as I believe is common in some European countries much lower speed limits for young drivers, perhaps stepping up a bit for those over 21. In Europe I have seen signs attached to the rear of the vehicle indicating a speed limit of, IIRC 80 km/hr. or even less. Obviously, this creates an enforcement problem for vehicles that are shared with an older driver who is not subject to that kind of restriction. My kids were fortunate in that they lived in the city of Washington, DC with access to good public transportation . . . not in the suburbs where a car is a social necessity for just about everyone. That's one reason why I moved out of the suburbs when my oldest was 14.

    • TR4 TR4 on Mar 05, 2021

      "I’m kinda curious what planet Mr. Sakuri lives on, where “keeping up with the traffic, even while it’s exceeding the speed limit” is a bad thing." That was presented as the GHSA's opinion, not Mr. Sakuri's: 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.

  • Blppt Blppt on Mar 05, 2021

    I remember getting into trouble with 3 cars that had south of 100hp and above 11 seconds to 60 as a kid, and the only driver distractions being the radio. Nowadays with the generic family sedan having north of 200hp and the advent of driver distractions like nav, smartphones, etc, i'm shocked more kids don't wrap themselves around trees.

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