Teen driving fatalities appear to be on the rise after years of decline, prompting the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to update recommendations for physicians and parents to address risks that include inexperience, speed and distracted driving.
Despite a nearly 50-percent reduction in crash-related teen deaths over the last decade, teen drivers are more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle crash that causes injury or death than any other age group in the United States. Data from 2014-2016 showed an increase in teen driving deaths and crash-related injuries that suggest a need for renewed attention.
In its policy statement, “The Teen Driver,” the AAP observes that while vehicle safety advances, graduated licensing laws, improvements in seat belt use and impaired driving enforcement have helped lower the fatality rate over the long term, much work needs to be done to make driving safer for adolescents and the community.
The policy statement will be published in the October 2018 issue of Pediatrics (published online Sept. 24), and reflect new research on the risks faced by teen drivers. The previous AAP policy statement on teen driving was published in 2006.
“We all know how easy it is to become distracted while driving, particularly in the age of texting and technology,” said Elizabeth M. Alderman, MD, FAAP, FSAHM, member of the AAP Committee on Adolescence and a lead author of the statement. “Parents can set a powerful example with their own driving habits, from using a seatbelt regularly to avoiding cell phone use or speeding.”
In 2015, 1,886 young drivers died in motor vehicle crashes, an increase of 9 percent from 2014. Another 195,000 teen drivers were injured in vehicle crashes in 2015, up 14 percent from the prior year.
Teen drivers with fewer than 18 months of driving experience have four times the risk of a crash or near-crash event, with risk factors that include inexperience, speed, teen passengers, distraction and use of alcohol, drugs or medication.
The crash risks increase for teen drivers who transport young passengers. More than half of children age 8 to 17 who die in vehicle crashes are killed as passengers of drivers younger than age 20.
“Every state has some form of graduated driver’s licensing regulations, which have helped improve safety by limiting the number of passengers or restricting night-time driving, for instance,” said Brian D. Johnston, MD, MPH, FAAP, a lead author of the report and member of the Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. “Yet more can be done. One step that could make a difference is for communities to more consistently enforce laws on seat belts and use of cell phones while driving.”
AAP recommends that pediatricians:
- Counsel teens on seat belt use and the risks of driving while impaired by alcohol, illicit substances and medication.
- Encourage parents to practice driving with their teenagers in a variety of environments and for more than the state-required minimum of hours.
- Promote the use of safe alternative routes to school to lessen driving time.
- Support later school start times to ensure teens have adequate sleep.
- Study whether the graduated driver’s licensing provisions should be expanded to include novice drivers who are 18 or 19 years old.
The policy statement also notes that adolescents with medical concerns such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, concussions or sleep apnea may be at higher risk if their driving ability is affected.
“For many teenagers, driving is an important rite of passage,” Dr. Alderman said. “We want to help them navigate this new privilege safely. Families can ask their pediatrician to share in a conversation with their new driver to set expectations and decrease risks.”