CHICAGO - Summer is here, and with it, more young people on the roads.
"There are a number of factors that lead to an increase in accidents for teen drivers, including inexperience, dealing with emergency situations, distracted driving and the inclination to show off for friends," said Gary Tsifrin, the founder of DriversEd.com, a drivers education resource. "By recognizing these common mistakes, we hope that teenagers will be able to avoid the risks associated with being a teenager behind the wheel."
The most common mistakes are:
- Being distracted: Cell phones, CDs, food and even text messages can pose serious distractions to drivers. Drivers will even text-message their backseat passengers. Distracted driving contributes to 80 percent of collisions.
- Taking risks: Actions such as ignoring traffic signals or school zone signs and changing lanes without checking blind spots are all considered "risky behavior." The difference between risky behavior and distracted driving is that risky behavior is deliberate, while distracted driving is often the result of ignorance.
- Speeding: Most drivers occasionally speed, but teens do so because they don't have a good sense of how a car's speed can affect their response time. On average, teens drive faster than all other drivers as a whole. They will exceed speeds on residential roads that they interpret as empty because they haven't had any close calls there.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that speeding factored into roughly one-third of all fatal crashes in 2005 when teenagers were behind the wheel - some 50 percent more than it did in fatal crashes for 20- to 49-year-olds.
- Overcrowding the car: Teens frequently overcrowd their cars, cramming five or six into a cabin meant to seat four or five. Worse yet, the extra passengers often result in teens driving more aggressively. The distractions of carrying too many passengers can have serious consequences, too.
- Driving under the influence: When teens drink and drive, they're even less likely to practice safe habits like seat belt usage: Of the 15- to 20-year-olds killed after drinking and driving in 2003, 74 percent were unrestrained, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Because teenagers are too young to drink legally, they're also less likely to call their parents to come get them when they shouldn't drive.
- Following too closely: Maintaining a proper following distance is a critical step in preventing accidents. At 60 mph, a typical car needs between 120 and 140 feet to reach a full stop. Most SUVs require an extra 5 to 10 feet on top of that. Consider that 60 mph translates to 88 feet per second and it's easy to see why maintaining a proper following distance is a critical step in preventing accidents.
- Driving unbuckled: A 2003 survey by NHTSA reported that 79 percent of drivers ages 16 to 24 said they wore their seat belts regularly, while 84 percent of the overall population did so. Approximately 21 percent of young drivers do not wear their seat belts regularly.
Many young drivers have a sense of invincibility that also factors into teen speeding. Fortunately, many cars today have seat belt reminders that flash warning lights or chime until belts are secured. Call them annoying, but they help keep occupants buckled.
- Not being able to handle emergencies: Knowing how to avoid an accident comes with driving experience. Young drivers can only learn so much in the classroom, which leaves learning maneuvers like straightening out a skid or how to apply the brakes correctly to real-world experience.
Speeding and distracted driving only make things worse, as they compound the lack of experience by putting drivers at higher risk of encountering an emergency situation in the first place.
- Driving drowsy: Drowsy driving affects an unlikely group: the so-called "good kids." That means straight-A students or those with a full plate of extracurricular activities. Overachievers have a lot of pressure. If they're playing varsity sports and are also preparing for an AP English exam, and if they've been going since 7 a.m. and now it's midnight and they have to get home, they don't think, "I'm too tired to drive."
- Choosing the wrong car and not maintaining it: A combination of tight budgets and high style leads teens to pass up important safety features for larger engines and flashy accessories.
A teen or novice driver will opt for a cool-looking sports car rather than a car that's really a safer choice. Then, if they sink all their money into it, they might be remiss in maintaining it.
CARS FOR TEENS
Cars.com has several new-car recommendations for teenage drivers based on a variety of criteria, including safety, price and size.
"We kept in mind that many parents are more concerned about safety, while their child is looking for style," said Cars.com's managing editor, Patrick Olsen. "This list offers new-car choices in various body styles and a wide range of prices likely to meet the needs of parents and teens."
Here are the top new-car picks for teens:
Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
Nissan Frontier Crew Cab
Toyota Tacoma Double Cab
Safety: Though neither Cars.com nor DriversEd.com can designate a vehicle as safe or unsafe, an interpretation of crash-test ratings and safety features was conducted. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-test scores were used to measure safety.
Because of the rollover risk in SUVs, the most important features considered were electronic stability systems and side curtain air bags.
Ownership cost/reliability: Low ownership costs can easily compensate for a higher sale price.
Repairs are a significant component in the total cost of ownership. For reliability data, we relied on J.D. Power and Associates' Mechanical Reliability Ratings and Consumer Reports' Reliability Histories. Other cost factors include fuel economy, required fuel grade (octane) and insurance costs.