Studies: Teen drivers most at risk in 1st month with license

This is the time of year when teenagers seem to go out of their way for a good scare.

Even so, here’s some information that should give teens (and their parents) a start:

• Teenagers are 50 percent more likely to crash in the first month of having a driver’s license than they are after a full year of experience driving on their own.

• They are nearly twice as likely to crash in that first month as they are after two full years of experience.

Those numbers come from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and were released just in time for Teen Driver Safety Week, which begins Sunday.

For AAA, the take-home message is that after teens earn their driver’s license, parents shouldn’t just hand over the keys and get out of the car.

Part of the problem is that as teens transition from learner’s permit to driver’s license, the person in the passenger seat shifts dramatically.

After getting a licence, teens spend 65 percent of their time driving alone, which is a good thing. But when they are driving with someone, it’s most often with another teen or sibling. Parents or other adults ride in the vehicle just 3 percent of the time.

“It is good for parents to stay involved even though the learner’s permit is over,” said Jim Hanni, executive vice president for public and government affairs at AAA in Topeka. “They need to expose teens to progressively more challenging driving conditions.”

The 50 percent number came from a study conducted by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. About 175,000 crashes among North Carolina teens were analyzed. Along with the fact that teens were most likely to crash in their first month of driving, the data showed three common mistakes that accounted for more than half of all crashes in which teens were at least partially responsible.

Those mistakes are failure to reduce speed, inattention and failure to yield. The study also found that some types of crashes occurred at higher rates in the first few months of driving — such as those involving left-hand turns — and then declined almost immediately.

Driving tips

Along with analyzing car crash data, AAA Foundation did a study that used in-vehicle cameras to monitor teen drivers who learned to drive with their parents and then drove in the car without their parents after obtaining a driver’s license.

While with their parents, teens drove on familiar roads and in relatively easy driving conditions. And even without adult supervision most of the driving was uneventful, but the cameras did catch a few close calls because of inexperience and a few instances of texting behind the wheel, horseplay and running red lights.

Based on these studies, AAA came up with four suggestions:

• Even after teens earn a driver’s license, they need to continue practicing with an experienced driver in the passenger seat. The new driver should be introduced to varied and more-challenging driving conditions, such as snow, heavy traffic and rural roads.

• The chances of an accident multiply when there’s another teen in the vehicle. Keep passengers out of the car or set limits and enforce them consistently.

• Night driving is riskier for drivers of all ages. For inexperienced teens, driving should be allowed at night only if it is truly necessary or if they are practicing with an adult.

• State rules shouldn’t dictate parents’ rules. AAA encourages parents to set rules that are “above and beyond” what state laws require. Along with setting limits on night driving and passengers, parents might consider rules for inclement weather, highways and cities.

Not ready

Even if the law says teen drivers are ready, many aren’t, Hanni said.

Kansas has a graduated licensing system.

In the six months after a teen receives a driver’s license, they can’t drive unsupervised after 9 p.m. or have more than one passenger in the car.

“We know from this study the real issue is in the first month they are out on their own,” Hanni said. “If you know they aren’t quite ready, you don’t just want to turn them loose because the law says you can do that. Try to give them as much experience as you can.”

To help navigate the world of teen driving, Hanni recommends AAA’s teen driving website, Among the site’s features are parent-teen driving agreements that lay the groundwork for what is expected for new drivers and the consequences for not following those expectations.

And because parents can’t be in the car at all times, American Family Insurance offers the option of installing a camera ( The cameras, which are installed for free for those who have policies through the insurance company, record the seconds before and after an erratic car movement. Those clips then get passed on to the parents, who are supposed to use the video footage as a learning tool for their teen driver.

“It sounds kind of Orwellian,” said Andrea Hoag, the director of marketing and social media with the Ron King Agency in Lawrence. “But what we really like is that it’s been proven to really decrease accidents.”

It’s a tool that Hoag plans to use when her 12-year-old daughter comes of driving age.

“It’s not meant to be a substitute for proper parenting. It’s an addendum and addition to it,” she said.