An understanding of how the number of teen crashes might be reduced begins with an understanding of how they happen.

Driving is dangerous, and especially so for new drivers. Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of mortality and serious morbidity for all young people ages 4 through to 34, and the rates are highest during new drivers’ first few months of driving on their own.

In fact, during their first six months of solo driving, newly licenced drivers are about eight times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than more experienced drivers.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.



Young drivers are at significantly higher risk than older drivers, and there is a learning curve for all new drivers.

Just what is it about teenagers that make them prone to motor vehicle crashes?
Statisticians provided a framework on risk factors for teens, by describing five critical elements teens need to drive safely:

  • skills – which include the capacity to operate the vehicle and to recognize hazards, as well as the capacity to react appropriately to the unexpected;
  • knowledge – of traffic rules and operating procedures, as well as an understanding of risks and their potential consequences;
  • experience – including both sufficient practice, as well the familiarity with the consequences of bad judgment that fosters good judgment;
  • maturity – or developed capacity for reasoning, judgment and decision making;
  • environment – or safe surroundings in which to learn to drive

Whether or not these elements are all in place, teens are eager to drive, and their crash risk is particularly high in the first few months they are on the road, as well as when they travel at night, when teenage passengers are in the car, when they are driving too fast for conditions and when they have consumed alcohol.

Research shows that the risk of crashing is significantly elevated for teen drivers who have teenage passengers, particularly male passengers in the car. The presence of multiple passengers seems to magnify the risk of crashes, whether they are caused by driver error, speeding or alcohol consumption.



Physical skills involved in operating a vehicle are easily mastered, however recognising and correcting for errors and detecting hazards in the roadway are key element of driving safely. And acquiring these skills takes much longer that learning the mechanics of driving. Some of the principle errors that teenagers make while driving include failure to:
  • maintain attention and avoid distractions, including electronic devices in the car;
  • search ahead, such as before left /right turns;
  • yielding the right of way at a junction;
  • search to the rear, such as when changing lanes;
  • adjust speed in response to traffic or road conditions;
  • maintain space between their own and other vehicles, such as correct following distance;
  • respond correctly to emergencies, such as recovering from a skid or sudden swerve;
  • maintain basic control of the vehicle, such as keeping within a lane, braking, and turning smoothly;
  • avoid driving whilst impaired by alcohol or sleepiness or driving a vehicle that is not roadworthy


Source: National Academy of Sciences.


  • Don’t get drawn into peer pressure, it’s easier said than done, but if your friends want you to put yourself, your licence, their safety and that of others at risk, ask yourself – are you okay with that?
  • Consider how you might respond to peer pressure, and how you would handle it.
  • Remind your friends who try and encourage showing off that good drivers use their skills to keep pedestrians, other road users and passengers safe – bad drivers are the ones who have to live with the consequences of bad decisions
  • Think about the implications it will have on your ability to apply for certain jobs or restrictions to your freedom
  • Take control – your car – your life – your rules!



Having a car full of friends all messing around can be really distracting for the driver. They put the driver and themselves at risk. If you are the driver, you make the rules; don’t risk losing your licence, or more as a result of their behaviour.


The emergency services sometimes refer to the front passenger seat of a car as the ‘sacrificial seat’. This is because just before a road traffic collision the driver’s instinct will often be to steer the vehicle away from the danger. As a result of this, the passenger side of the vehicle can take the full impact. This means that it is often the passenger and not the driver who is more seriously hurt, or killed.

What can you do to keep yourself and others safe?

  • If you know someone who takes risks when driving such as using their mobile phone whilst driving, try to avoid having to be in a vehicle with them, or tell them it’s unacceptable behaviour and you don’t feel safe and agree that up front before you get into their car;
  • Plan your journey home, if you are going out for the night, plan ahead and know how you and your mates are going to get home safely;
  • If you are in a vehicle with someone and they’re driving dangerously, find a way out of the situation, make an excuse to get out of the car – you feel sick, really need the toilet;
  • Speak to family and friends and agree that if you find yourself in a situation which makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, what you can do to help get you out of it – for example agree a code phrase and plan of action so that someone can come and get you



If your child is either thinking about or learning to drive, as a parent/carer/guardian there are lots of practical things that you can do to help your child stay safer when they’re driving or when they are a passenger.
Start with talking to your child about staying safer on the roads.
  • Discuss and agree as a family how you will deal with tricky situations. If your child finds themselves in a situation they’re uncomfortable with, maybe getting a lift home with a friend who they know has been drinking, its important they know they can contact you for help at any time of the day/night. Otherwise if they’re worried about getting into trouble by doing that, they might decide not to contact you and take a risk, even though they know there is a possibility that they might end up hurt;
  • Limit the number of passengers your child is allowed to take in their vehicle, particularly in the first 6-12 months after passing their test. The more passengers a new driver has in the car, the greater the risk of a collision;
  • The risk of a new young driver being involved in a collision is much greater late at night and early in the morning. Sit down and agree some limits on driving during these hours. If they’re going to be out late they could perhaps look at other options to get home like using public transport, have you pick them up or sleepover at a friend’s house;
  • Up to 50% of crashes that happen in the wet involve young drivers, so discuss with your child the importance of recognising poor weather conditions and reducing speed;
  • Fatigue is also a factor in many crashes with young drivers. Agree together that nobody in the family drives when tired, especially if a long journey is involved or it’s late at night;
  • Talk to your child about speed limits and the importance of them and the possible fines and penalties of speeding, and the fact that a new driver could lose their licence;
  • Help your child get as much practice as possible before their test. This could include you giving them ‘private practice.’ Research shows that the risk to newly qualified drivers goes down when they have had 120 hours or more on the road practicing before their test;
  • Finally, remember that YOU are a role model. How you drive and act in a vehicle will have an impact on your child.



It is important that from an early age, young children are aware of the dangers involved on the road, and know when to tell someone that they don’t feel safe. Make time to have that discussion with them.

Check out the ‘The Zoo Trip’ road safety video for primary school children. Produced by

Young Drivers Advice | Arrive Alive CI