SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Department of Transportation has asked parents to talk to teens about the importance of safe driving during National Teen Driver Week, happening between Oct. 17 and Oct. 23. The campaign is made possible through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and NMDOT.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens between 15 and 18 years old in the U.S., according to NHTSA. In 2019, the agency reported 2,042 people were killed in crashes involving a teen driving a passenger vehicle, and 628 of those killed were the teen behind the wheel. In that same year, NHTSA reported about 92,000 teens were injured in crashes and nearly 264,000 people were injured during crashes that involved a teen driver.
“Parents play a critical role in teen driver safety in their ability to consistently communicate important driving safety information,” said Transportation Secretary Mike Sandoval. “New teen drivers are still gaining experience behind the wheel, which increases the chance of dangerous situations for the teen and others around them.”
NMDOT said parents can help by sharing their driving experience and talking to teens about behaviors that could be dangerous while driving. Such discussion can inspire teens to make wise choices in order to stay safe on the road.
These are the main topics for discussion about driving risks, and supporting data, according to NMDOT:
- Impaired Driving: Driving under the influence can have deadly consequences. All teens are too young to legally buy, possess, or consume alcohol. However, nationally, 16% of teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2019 had alcohol in their system. Alcohol isn’t the only substance that can keep teens from driving safely: marijuana affects a driver’s ability to react to their surroundings. Driving is a complex task and marijuana slows the reaction time.
- Seat Belt Safety: Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest ways for teens to stay safe in a vehicle. Yet, too many teens aren’t buckling up. More than half (55%) of the teen passenger vehicle drivers who died in crashes in 2019 were unbuckled. Teen drivers and passengers are more likely to die in a crash if they are unbuckled (nine out of 10 of the passengers who died were also unbuckled).
- Distracted Driving: Cell phone use while driving is more than just risky — it can be deadly. Texting while driving is outlawed in 47 states. Any phone use while driving (texting, talking, or using any social media apps) is unacceptable and illegal. Even if teens are stopped at a light.
Distracted driving isn’t limited to cell phone use. Other passengers, audio, and climate controls in the vehicle, eating, or drinking while driving are all examples of dangerous distractions for teen drivers. In 2019, among teen drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes, 10% were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. Headphones are not appropriate to wear while driving a vehicle. All drivers need to be able to hear another vehicle’s horn or the siren from an emergency vehicle, so they can safely move over and out of the path.
- Speed Limits: Speeding is a critical issue for all drivers, especially for teens who are less experienced. In 2019, more than one-quarter (27%) of all teen drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash. Males were more likely to be involved in fatal speeding-related crashes than females.
- Passengers: Passengers in a teen’s vehicle can lead to disastrous consequences. Research shows the risk of a fatal crash dramatically increases in direct relation to the number of passengers in a vehicle. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers.
The department adds that data from self-reported surveys show that parents who define firm driving rules help teens avoid dangerous driving behaviors and hence, being involved in crashes.
NHTSA also offers helpful tips on how parents and caregivers can discuss the dangers of driving with teens. Those tips can be found here. Also, detailed information and data on teen driving can be found here.