Top reason to worry about your teen driver: Passengers

3,500 teens died in crashes in 2016; 60% of teen crashes involve distractions

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Becoming a licensed driver is a key milestone for most American teenagers -- and a source of dread for many of their parents.

While most teens can't wait for the freedom of being behind the wheel on their own, parents know that freedom often comes with dangers.

Florida teens make up about 5 percent of Florida’s licensed drivers, but last year teen crashes made up 11 percent of all crashes, state statistics show.

Crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, with more than 3,500 dying in 2016 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety decided to look into why so many teens are involved in crashes. Researchers found that about 60 percent of teen crashes are caused by distraction.

Those distractions range from talking to someone in the car (15%) or using a cellphone (12%) to singing or dancing (8%) and grooming (6%), according to information collected by researchers at the University of Iowa. They studied in-vehicle camera footage for 16- to 19-year-olds who participated in the study in 2013.

Teen driving distractions

According to information from a AAA study, six of 10 teen crashes involve driver distraction. Below is a breakdown of some of the most common distractions for teen drivers:

The researchers also found that looking at something in the car (10%) or outside the car (9%) and reaching for something (6%) also contributed to the distracted crashes.

A follow-up report in 2016 found that while the top distractions were unchanged from 2007 to 2015, a disturbing trend emerged in how teens are using their phone behind the wheel, AAA said. Teens were more likely to be looking down or operating their phone rather than talking or listening in the critical seconds leading up to a crash, data showed.

The study also found an increase in rear-end crashes and the average time drivers’ eyes were off the road.

"We do want to reach out to our youth, our young drivers," Florida Highway Patrol Master Sgt. Dylan Bryan said. "If you are texting and driving, you are 20 times more likely to crash that car."

When it comes to fatal crashes involving teen drivers, about a quarter of the drivers had been drinking, AAA found.

AAA encourages parents, educators and teens themselves to discuss the dangers of driving impaired and distracted. Here are some tips for parents and guardians responsible for young drivers:

  • Have conversations early and often about the dangers of underage drinking, impaired driving and driving distracted 
  • Make a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules against these dangerous behaviors 
  • Stay engaged as teens learn to drive and monitor their activity to ensure safety 
  • Teach by example and put safety first by not participating in these activities yourself 

Arrive Alive

The We Arrive Alive campaign is highlighting National Teen Driver Safety Week from Oct. 15 to 21 to remind teens, and those in the car with them, to buckle up every time to Arrive Alive.

Without a seat belt, chances of dying in a crash almost double, according to state safety officials.

The campaign encourages teen drivers not to start the car until everyone has buckled up, and emphasizes that parents should set the example as they teach their teens to drive.

“Teen drivers are more likely to be involved in a crash than anyone else on the road,” said Amy Stracke, managing director of traffic safety advocacy for AAA. “It is critical that during Teen Driver Safety Week, we focus on how this group can be safer both behind the wheel and as passengers.”

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles encourages parents and adults to take the time to talk with teenagers about the importance of buckling up and share that message with their friends. 

Bryan said it's never too early to teach teens to take responsibility when they're behind the wheel.

"Communicate," he said. "Talk to your family. Talk to your children. Talk to your children's friends."

For affirmative We Arrive Alive statements, shareable graphics and more, visit the DHSMV’s website and encourage teens to use the hashtag #WeArriveAlive throughout the week to add and share important teen driving safety information. also has a variety of tools to help prepare parents and teens for the learning-to-drive process. The online AAA StartSmart program also offers great resources for parents on how to become effective in-vehicle coaches as well as advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges. 

AAA officials suggest that teens preparing for the responsibility of driving should enroll in a driver education program that teaches how to avoid driver distraction and other safety skills.

Troopers and other safety experts will be touring local schools this week, putting on safety fairs for students. They will be at Creekside High School in St. Johns County on Tuesday.

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