Summer, Teens, and Driving: The Deadly Season

The three-month period between Memorial Day and Labor Day – known in the Northern Hemisphere as summer – is beloved for many reasons. School’s out. It’s vacation time. The days are long. Twilight lasts for hours. For most teenagers, ideal summer day goes something like this: wake up late, go to the pool, forget to reapply sunscreen, come home tired, sunburnt, and hungry. Eat dinner, then go out back out until it gets dark.

The perfect day most definitely does not include getting in a fatal car crash.

Unfortunately, the data on teen driving shows that during the summer, driving fatalities increase dramatically. That’s why June, July, and August are known by an ominous name: The Hundred Deadliest Days of Summer

Teenagers: Summer Driving Statistics

We Save Lives, a non-profit organization with a mission to “…support and promote solution driven policies and programs that save lives by changing dangerous driving choices through viral awareness, education, advocacy and partnerships” presents a set of summer driving facts based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Any parent who reads these facts will find them impossible to ignore:

  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, accounting for over 33% of all accidental deaths.
  • Teenagers crash cars at a higher rate than any other age group.
  • Teen car crash fatalities increase by 26% in the summer months.
    • An average of 260 teens per month die in car crashes during summer
  • Distracted driving accounts for 60% of teen car crashes.
    • 12% are caused by texting or talking on the phone
    • 15% are caused by distractions from passengers
  • During June, July, and August, 43% of car crashes involving teens result in fatalities
  • 60% of fatal car crashes involving teens are alcohol-related
    • Almost 50% of alcohol-related teen driving fatalities occur on Friday and Saturday nights

We know – it doesn’t seem fair to give you one more thing to worry about this summer. You’ve got enough on your plate already. The sad truth is that accidents do happen, and it’s impossible to prevent all of them. There’s another truth to find here, however. There are clear and obvious ways to reduce the risk of both teen car crashes and the fatalities that accompany them all too often.

Steps You Can Take

The best thing to do is talk to your teen and present them with the facts.

To prevent them from checking out, mentally – as teens often do when parents slip into lecture mode – perhaps open the conversation with a line like this:

“All your car privileges this summer depend on you paying attention to everything I’m about to say.”

Once you have their attention, show them the statistics above. If they don’t take you seriously, you can show them images of crushed cars and graphic images of injuries. But that’s rather dramatic, and probably should be used only as a last resort.

Then, after sharing the stats and scaring then with pictures if necessary, make them agree to a set of hard and fast ground rules for driving this summer.

Here’s what we suggest:

  1. Limit their driving at night, and especially on weekend nights. Evidence shows that once it’s dark, the danger goes up. Friday and Saturday nights are the most dangerous nights for teen driving. Set a schedule you’re comfortable with and stick to it. Anything that happens outside of the diving times you’re comfortable with can be accomplished either by parent taxi, actual taxi, or any of the new-generation ride services like Uber or Lyft.
  2. Limit the number of passengers allowed in the car. Statistics don’t specify a number of passengers over which an accident is more likely, but a limit of three passengers seems reasonable. While we don’t want to deprive anyone of rocking out with the windows down and the music up loud, remind your teen that if they’re behind the wheel, their first job is to arrive alive. There’ll be plenty of time to rock out when they’re not behind the wheel.
  3. Make them commit to never, ever texting, talking on the phone, or using the phone or any handheld electronic device in any way while driving.
  4. Make them commit to never, ever driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Not only is it illegal and can result in fines, a suspended license, and jail, it dramatically increases their chances of causing a fatal crash.
  5. Make them commit to never, ever getting in a car with someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Encourage them to intervene when they see friends making poor decisions with regards to drugs, alcohol, and driving.

If they don’t agree to numbers 1-4, take away the car keys and don’t give them back until they do agree and you’re sure they mean it. And if they don’t agree to number 5, don’t let them go out with friends who have cars.

Model Good Behavior

You know the saying: kids do what you do, not what you say. You also know it’s true. Your kids watch every move you make. If you text and drive, your kids probably will, too. The same goes for alcohol. If you drink and drive, they chances are they’ll think it’s okay.

Remember, it’s not okay to drink and drive under any circumstances.

It’s not okay to load the family in the car after a 4th of July barbecue where you drank beer. It’s not okay to drink wine or cocktails with dinner and then load the family into the car for a short ride home. Sure – in both examples, the amount you drink might not put you over the legal limit – but we think it’s not a great example to set for your children. If you drink and drive – or text and drive – in front of your teenager, your actions condone those behaviors, and they’ll be more likely to do them, which significantly increases their risk of being involved in a fatal car crash.

To change this coming June, July, and August from The 100 Deadliest Days of Summer to The 100 Best Days of The Year, take the following steps:

  1. Lead by example. Don’t ever drink and drive or text and drive.
  2. Talk to your kids about summer driving safety.
  3. Show them the statistics above, and follow them up with graphic images if necessary.
  4. Make solid rules with clear consequences that everyone understands ahead of time.
  5. If they break the rules, don’t let them off the hook. Follow through the first times so the lesson sticks.