The good news and bad news about teen driving trends

By Barbara Marquand on May 30th, 2013

Some teens are apparently getting the message about how to be safer on the roads, but a troubling number of teen drivers continue to take dangerous risks, according to a recent report by the The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm.

The report noted a significant decline in deaths from teen driver-related crashes and encouraging trends related to 15- to 19-year-old passengers. Researchers found that:

  • In 2011, 54 percent of teen passengers reported always buckling up.
  • The number of teen passengers who were killed in crashes and were not wearing seat belts decreased 23 percent from 2008 to 2011.
  • The number of teen passengers driven by a peer who had been drinking declined 14 percent from 2008 to 2011.
  • Thirty percent fewer teens were killed in crashes involving a teen driver in 2011, compared to 2008.
  • Overall teen driver-related deaths dropped 47 percent in six years.

Still, crashes remain the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers.

"When you see the needle move, as we have in this report, it's time to apply the gas on programs that encourage safe teen passenger behaviors, as well as those that address what causes teens to crash," lead author Dennis Durbin said in a press statement.

Durbin said safety efforts should focus on reducing distractions from passengers and technology; increase teen drivers' skills in scanning, hazard detection and managing speed; and increase seat belt use to improve chances of survival in a crash.

Risky behaviors are still a big problem. According to the report:

  • A third of teens say they have recently texted or emailed while driving.
  • Speeding was a factor in more than half of teen driver crashes in 2011 -- about the same level as in 2008.
  • The percentage of teens who died in crashes and who had a blood alcohol level over 0.01 increased slightly from 2008 to 2011, from 38 percent to 41 percent.

Durbin said to reach teens who still text or email while driving, safety efforts should focus on teen's positive safety beliefs instead of scare tactics.

The report called for strong graduated driving licensing programs, which let teens gain driving experience in lower-risk conditions. A comprehensive graduated licensing program requires at least 50 hours of adult-supervised practice under varied conditions, limits teen passengers for the first year of independent driving, restricts unsupervised nighttime driving, requires seat belt use for the driver and all passengers, and prohibits cell phone use while driving.

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