According to a recent study by Erie Insurance, teens in Texas aren’t facing the nation’s highest death rates behind the wheel — but neither are they in the safest group. Between 2007 and 2011, Texas ranked 25th in the nation in teen driving deaths. Erie’s study estimates that teens are 35 percent more likely to die in a car accident than drivers ages 20 and older, and every year, about 16,000 teens lose their life behind the wheel.
Here are a few more stats, facts and figures you should know about teen driving:
What Makes Driving Tougher for Teens?
Often, teens are excited to be out driving for the first time, gaining a newfound measure of independence and exploring their world in ways that were unavailable to them just a few short months before. Their stage of development, inexperience behind the wheel and peer pressure can combine to make driving more risky for teens.
A study by the National Academies for Health reveals how a teen’s development can adversely affect his or her safety on the road. Although teens are often among the most physically healthy individuals during this time of their life, their risk of death increases sharply between the ages of 15 and 20.
According to the study, the increase in risk occurs in part because the same developmental brain processes that allow teens to tackle abstract thinking also encourage risk-taking, seeking out new experiences and building social relationships. When treated appropriately, risk-taking and the desire for social bonds help teens learn and grow. When placed behind the wheel without proper supervision, however, serious harm can result.
Every state implemented a graduated driver licensing program that seeks to minimize this risk by exposing teens gradually to new driving situations. Yet lack of experience often leads to ill-informed decisions that can cause a crash.
Teens’ developmental tendencies toward social bonding mean that they are more likely to listen to their peers — even when their peers are giving them bad advice. When teens who ordinarily drive with caution decide to skip their seat belts, speed or try to fit too many people into a vehicle, peer pressure may be to blame.
How Can Teens Reduce Their Risks?
By knowing what risks they face on the road, teens can take matters into their own hands, lowering their risk of suffering a serious injury behind the wheel.
- Practice safe driving. Get plenty of practice with a responsible adult — more than the minimum required in Texas driver education programs. Practice even after you’ve earned your license.
- Limit distractions. Never use your cell phone unless the vehicle is safely parked first. Limit the number of passengers you carry in your vehicle, and keep the radio volume at a reasonable level.
- Always wear your seat belt. Your seat belt is one of the simplest tools available for preventing death or serious injury in a crash. Wear it every time.
Here are some tips to consider when buying your first car.
General Safety Features
Older cars may be a better deal, and for the “cool” factor, nothing beats the sleek look of vintage sheet metal. But a newer, midsize sedan may offer the best combination of safety and functionality for a young driver.
Despite the perception that the land yachts of yesterday were built like tanks, late-model cars are generally safer due to significant advances in crash-avoidance technology and occupant protection in the event of a crash. Midsize sedans are larger than compact or sports cars, giving them more mass with which to protect passengers in a crash. At the same time, they have a lower center of gravity than SUVs and pickups, which makes them less prone to roll them over — a key safety consideration, since rollover accidents can easily be fatal.
Other safety features to look for in a teen’s first car include:
Seat belts that work — and fit. Don’t just assume the vehicle’s seat belts are in good working order, especially if you’re buying from a private seller. Instead, have your teen test every seat belt to make sure they both work and fit correctly.
Airbags (SRS). An ideal car for a young driver will have no fewer than six airbags: two in front, plus side-impact and side-curtain bags to help protect the heads and upper bodies of passengers in a wide range of accidents. While most cars sold in the last few years have these as standard equipment, many cars that are a decade old or older may lack side airbags. Many cars over 20 years old have just one air bag or none at all.
Antilock brakes and stability control. These features help the driver maintain control of the vehicle, especially in wet or icy weather. They are standard on most late-model cars. It is important that a driver knows whether a car is equipped with ABS and how to use it. Unlike non-ABS systems, you don’t pump ABS brakes in a panic stop — instead, you apply constant, firm pressure.
A four- or five-star crash test rating. Although this isn’t a safety feature installed in the vehicle itself, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s ratings can tell you a great deal about a vehicle’s safety. Visit SaferCar.gov or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at iihs.org to learn more.
Dealer or Private Seller?
Tech-savvy teens will probably want to launch their car search online through sites like Craigslist and eBay. While a car sold by a private owner may look like a better deal, going through a dealership may provide better financing options and warranties.
Whether you choose a dealer or a private seller, keep these steps in mind:
- Go for a test drive or two. Have your teen try driving the car, and take it for a test drive yourself, so you both know how it handles and how comfortably you can reach all the controls. Pay attention to any vibrations, noises, smells, hesitation or other signs of mechanical problems.
- Do a background check. For a nominal fee, services like Carfax and AutoCheck can help you learn if a vehicle has been in an accident. They may also provide service histories.
- Take it to a mechanic. Although services like Carfax and AutoCheck can give you more information, they aren’t foolproof — and they can’t tell you what condition the vehicle is in today. Take the vehicle to a mechanic you trust for a thorough inspection before you buy.
Does Year, Make and Model Matter? Yes!
Choosing a vehicle means knowing more than just what your teen’s preferences are, or identifying the safety features of various vehicle types. It also means identifying the make, model and year in order to gather the information you need to make the safest choice. Even better, write down the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN).
Why do these matter? You can use this information to find out if the car has been subject to any safety recalls or claims regarding auto defects. By visiting SaferCar.gov or downloading NHTSA’s vehicle safety app, you and your teen have recall and other information at your fingertips.
Download Your Own Car Buying Guide to Take to the Dealership
Don’t go to the dealership empty handed. Download your own car buying guide. The guide includes questions about the safety features such as “Do all the seat belts work?,” background checks and recalls like “What does the car report say?,” and a hands-on safety check that suggests both teens and parents test drive the car.
A well-cared-for car keeps you safer, lasts longer and saves you money by helping you avoid unnecessary breakdowns and repairs.
Be Safe and Look Cool
Basic car care helps your car (and you) look its best, and it also helps keep you safe on the road. Here’s how:
Never ignore dashboard warning lights. Your car’s check engine light, oil light, brake light and other warning lights are your car’s way of letting you know when something is wrong so you can fix it. Read the owner’s manual so you know what the lights mean, and respond immediately if one comes on while you’re driving.
Keep your windshield clean and clear. Change them anytime they start to crack, skip or leave streaks or smears on the glass. Make sure your windshield washer fluid tank is full and that the spray nozzles work.
Slow down. Traveling at or below the speed limit isn’t just safer — it’s also good for your car. Driving slower means putting less wear and tear on your engine, transmission and brakes. It also reduces the amount of gas you use, which saves you money at the pump.
Extend the Life of Your Car
A car is a major investment. Keep yours on the road through high school, college or first job and beyond with these tips:
Learn your car’s maintenance schedule and follow it. Your owner’s manual should include an outline for basic maintenance, like oil changes and tire rotation. Read this schedule and make sure your car gets what it needs on time — whether you visit a service shop or learn to do it yourself.
Let it warm up. In cold weather, start your vehicle and let it warm up for a few minutes before you put it in gear. Don’t accelerate hard when you do start driving. This gives the oil in your engine time to warm up and flow properly, which helps your engine work the way it’s meant to. You’ll also make it warmer inside the vehicle, which means more comfort for you!
Prevent Breakdowns and Unforeseen Costs
Proper car care makes for a more reliable vehicle, one that needs fewer expensive trips to the mechanic. It also helps ensure your car starts when you turn the key — because nothing is less cool than promising your friends a ride, only to find out you’re all stranded by a car that won’t start.
Remember that not all car parts last forever. If you buy a newer car, you may not have to worry about the transmission or the engine failing. But brakes, tires, belts, hoses and filters all wear out, and forgetting to fix or replace them can cause serious damage or even get you into an accident. Find out when these parts were last changed on your car, and set yourself a reminder to check them regularly.
Don’t let your car run low on fuel. Newer vehicles have fuel-injected engines. These engines use in-tank electric pumps that need the gasoline in the tank to cool and lubricate their parts, allowing them to work properly. Run your gas tank too low too often, and you risk needing an expensive fuel pump repair. Instead, try to keep at least a quarter tank of fuel in your vehicle at all times. This will also help prevent getting water in the tank when temperatures drop and avoid the risk of running out of gas. Few things are less cool than having to walk to a gas station.
Here are some “first steps” to take when your trip is interrupted by an unforeseen circumstance.
If You Get in an Accident
Most car accidents are minor, but they can still cause a major disruption in your day. If you crash or if someone crashes into you:
- Move your vehicle out of the way of traffic, if you can. If you can’t, turn on your hazard lights. (If you don’t know where the switch is, find out now!)
- Check to see if anyone is hurt. If they are, call 911 or ask a bystander to do it.
- Get contact information from any other driver or other person involved in the crash: name, address, phone number and insurance information.
- If you can, take photos of the accident scene and any damage that has occurred. These may be useful later if you need to file an insurance claim.
If Your Car Breaks Down
Good car care will go a long way toward preventing breakdowns. But if one happens, here’s what you should do:
- Move your vehicle as far off the roadway as you can. If you’re on a curve, try to coast along the shoulder until you’re in a straighter section of the road. This gives oncoming vehicles more time to see you.
- Turn on your vehicle’s hazard lights. If you break down after dark, turn on the interior light as well.
- Call for emergency roadside assistance or call a trusted adult.
If You Get a Flat Tire
Flat tires can happen to anyone. Here’s what to do:
- Do not try to drive on a flat tire. Instead, pull as far off the road as you possibly can. Turn on your vehicle’s hazard lights so that other drivers can see you more easily.
- Call for help from emergency roadside assistance or a trusted adult.
- Do not try to change a flat tire yourself unless you have learned the safest way to do so, and you have practiced changing your car’s tires before.
- Never try to change a flat tire if it means you have to work on the side of the vehicle facing the road. You could easily be hit by a passing vehicle whose driver did not see you until it was too late.
If You Get a Ticket
When you’re learning the rules of the road, chances are good that you might break one or two – and get a traffic ticket as a result. Here’s what to do:
- If a police car turns its lights on behind you, pull over. If the officer is trying to pull you over, he or she will stop behind you.
- Keep your hands on the steering wheel, where the officer can see them. If it is dark out, turn on the interior lights. Provide your driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance information if asked. Be polite and cooperate fully, but keep your answers to questions short.
- You can respond to a ticket by pleading “guilty,” “no contest” or “not guilty.” If you decide to pay the ticket, you are pleading “guilty” or “no contest.” If you decide to plead “not guilty,” you will have to go to court to fight the ticket. Talk to an adult you trust or an experienced attorney to learn more.
- Never ignore a traffic ticket, and always respond by the date printed on the ticket. Ignoring a ticket could result in a warrant for your arrest.
If You’ve Been Drinking
If you’re under 21, it is illegal to drink. However, some teens break the law and consume alcohol. The best thing to do if you’ve been drinking alcohol is to avoid getting behind the wheel. Most states have zero-tolerance laws for underage drivers. In other words, if there is any alcohol in an underage driver’s system, he or she may be charged with DUI.
Instead of driving after drinking, keep these options in mind:
- Ride with someone else, but only if you know that person has not had any drugs or alcohol.
- A parent or other trusted adult may be willing to give you a ride, so don’t be afraid to reach out. They would rather pick you up from a party than go see you in the hospital or at the morgue. Any “trouble” you may get into for drinking is probably far less severe than if you got a DUI or, worse, caused a drunk driving accident.
- Call a local cab company or take the bus if one is available.
- Ask if you can stay at a friend’s house for a few hours or overnight until you sober up.