One of the scariest things we, as parents, do is allow our teenage drivers to get behind the wheel of a car and drive off on their own. The second leading cause of death for teens is car accidents and those between the age of 16 -19 are at higher risk. However, teen motor vehicle accidents are avoidable if teens practice safe driving. Therefore, we must make sure our teenagers are aware of the dangers they face and help them avoid disaster. Below we have listed what the CDC deems the top leading causes of teen crashes.


Driver Inexperience

Teen drivers are new to the road and lack the experience to recognize dangerous situations, making them more likely to make critical decision errors that can lead to a serious accident. Even the best teen drivers do not have the judgement that comes with experience. Some states require teen drivers to obtain an instruction permit and complete a set amount of driving hours before they can obtain their license.  For example, Missouri requires teen drivers to obtain an instruction permit at least 182 days before they can take their exam. In addition, a teenager must complete 40 hours of driving time with a qualified licensed adult. These 40 hours of driving time are important. This is your opportunity to ride along with your son or daughter and make suggestions, point out dangers, and make sure they are ready to drive on their own. Make sure to practice driving at different times, in different weather conditions, and in heavy and light traffic.


Driving with Friends

It is an exciting time for teenagers to have independence with their friends. However, that independence comes with risks. Passengers can easily become distractions, especially when they are riding with inexperienced teen drivers. The driver’s focus switches from the road to what is happening inside the car. Teen drivers do not have the experience to know how to handle these distractions, leading to critical decision errors.

All 50 states have developed a Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) to try and aid our teen drivers before adding the distraction of passengers. The GDL limits the number of passengers in the car a teen driver can travel with, based on their driving experience.  For example, Missouri teen drivers are only allowed 1 individual under the age of 19, who is not a member of their immediate family, in the car with them for the first 6 months.  After the first 6 months, teens are allowed up to 3 passengers.

It is our responsibility as parents to enforce these graduated guidelines and keep our drivers and their friends safe.


Nighttime Driving

Visibility is low at night, which can present extreme challenges for inexperienced drivers.  Throw in adverse weather conditions and suddenly trouble is all too common. Therefore, it is important that you practice driving with your teen at night.  In fact, many states require a certain amount of nighttime driving before teens are allowed to take their driver’s test.

Setting a curfew for your new driver is highly encouraged. Many states even limit the hours teens may be on the road at night. Missouri drivers are not allowed to drive between the hours of 1 am and 5 am for the first 6 months, except to and from a school activity, job, or for an emergency. The exception to this rule is if the driver is accompanied by a licensed driver 21 years of age or older during those hours.


Not Using Seatbelts

Seatbelts save lives, but did you know that teens and young adults statistically have the lowest rates of seatbelt usage?  In fact, the CDC notes that “43.1% of U.S. high school students do not always wear a seatbelt when riding in a car driven by someone else.”  In 2019, almost half of the teenage drivers and their passengers killed in a car accident were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash.

Requiring your teen to wear a seatbelt on every trip is the easiest way to prevent injuries and death. However, the practice of seatbelt usage starts at home. Our kids copy what we do. If we want our teens to buckle up and stay safe, we must do so ourselves.


Distracted Driving

We all face the troubles of distracted driving, whether we want to admit it or not.  However, this becomes even more dangerous with the inexperienced teen driver. There are the common distractions of cell phone use, passengers, applying makeup, etc. that should be avoided while driving, but what can our teens do before they leave to eliminate these distractions?

  • Eliminate Cell Phone use – Make calls/send texts before departing. Turn off phones and put them out of reach while driving. If phones must be used, pull off to a safe location before using.
  • Familiarize themselves with their car – Know where the lights, wipers, blinkers, flashers, safety devices, etc. are in the car.
  • Adjust their settings – Adjust seat, mirrors, radio, etc. before putting the car in gear.
  • GPS directions – Set GPS directions before leaving.
  • Eating – Eat before hitting the road or pull over to eat. Driving and eating can be incredibly distracting on the open road.
  • Plenty of Sleep – Make sure you have had adequate sleep before heading out.


Reckless Driving

Teens are more likely than adults to practice reckless driving due to their lack of experience.  They are more likely to speed and follow other vehicles too closely. Speed is a significant factor in the outcome of all car accidents, so be sure to encourage your child to obey posted speed limits. Let them know they do not have to keep up with traffic. Going the posted speed limit is going to keep them safe. Encourage your teen to leave plenty of time to get to appointments or events to avoid speeding.

Rear-end accidents can happen because teen drivers follow to closely to the vehicles in front of them. There are several options to help your teen know whether they are following too closely:

  • 3 Second Rule – Pick a stationary object in front of your vehicle (overhead road sign, tree, building, etc.). Note when the vehicle in front of you passes the object, then see how many seconds it takes you to pass the same object. If there is not at least 3 seconds, leave more space.
  • Car length rule – For every 10 miles per hour you are traveling there should be 1 car length of space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.

It should be noted the tips mentioned above are for ideal road conditions and regular size motor vehicles. Weather and larger vehicles will increase the time needed to safely slow down.


Parent -Teen Driving Agreement

Preparing our teens to be on the road is not where our responsibility ends as parents. Make sure to discuss the rules of the road with your teen. There are many parent-teen driving agreements available on the internet to help you establish ground rules and guidelines to keep your teenager safe.

There is no substitute for driving experience and the wisdom that age brings, but by knowing risk factors and taking preventive measures we can help prevent our teen drivers from becoming part of a tragic statistic.


Monsees & Mayer, P.C.

Monsees & Mayer, P.C. is a personal injury law firm.  Our attorneys handle all types of catastrophic injuries.  We have offices in Kansas City and Springfield, Missouri and frequently travel to our clients.   If you or your teen suffer injuries from a motor vehicle accident we are here to help.  Contact our law offices and speak to an attorney today.