Youth Culture Window

Danger in the Front Seat

Dynamic ImageThe number of fatal automobile accidents involving teen drivers has risen drastically in the past 5 years, 14,000 in all. On average, 15 very unlucky young people die every day on American roads.

It looks like teenagers can get into just as much trouble in the front seat as they can the back seat….

In February of 2017, just before the start of Spring Break vacations, two separate reports came out stating the same thing: young people tend to be very dangerous drivers. The first study, released by the National Safety Council, showed that 40,000 people (all ages) lost their lives in car crashes in 2016. The escalation in highway deaths between 2014 and 2016 hasn’t been this severe in more than half a century! The other report, submitted by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, puts most of this blame on the shoulders of young drivers. For example, compared to all other age groups, those between 19 and 24 are more likely to text while driving…and less likely to support legislation that would stop such distractions.

Another group of young drivers – teenagers – are also guilty of contributing to the carnage. Teens are statistically 1.6 times more likely to be in an accident than their adult counterparts. Researchers say this reality stems from three major mistakes teens make behind the wheel: driving over the speed limit, driving with distractions (caused by texting, loud music, friends in the car, etc.), and driving without scanning the road ahead of them.

Every group of drivers admitted to being guilty (to varying degrees) of “risky behavior” such as “speeding, red light running, and texting behind the wheel,” but the biggest culprits by age group were (1st) 19-24 year olds, (2nd) 25-39 year olds, (3rd) 40-59 year olds, and of course, (4th) 16-18 year olds.

And we haven’t even talked about alcohol yet.

Alcohol consumption only makes the bad worse. Pediatrics released a report in February of 2017 that studied almost 85,000 traffic fatalities of kids under the age of 21 between the years 2000 and 2013. In those accidents, 28% resulted from the driver being over the legal limit, and fully half of the accidents involved a driver with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. This gruesome study did uncover at least one bit of good news, though: states with firm alcohol policies had fewer deaths.

In other words, strategic plans seem to be having an impact on the problem.

Speeding Up Solutions
Car accidents – no matter what age driver is responsible – carry with them an 871 billion dollar price tag, annually. (Now I know why teens’ car insurance premiums are so high!) Given that the costs are so great and that certain solutions do tend to work, is there anything that parents and other caring adults can do to help speed up solutions and thereby save lives?

The answer is absolutely yes! Here are a few ideas.


  1. Model safe driving in every way at all times. Don’t speed. Don’t drive with one eye on the road and one eye on your phone. Never drive under any sort of impairment (be it from alcohol, drugs, or prescription meds). Don’t give in to road rage. Whatever the behavior, if you don’t want to see it in your kids’ habits, don’t let them see it in yours!
  2. Take advantage of safety tools. My wife and I recently hung out with some students from our college ministry. Backing out of the driveway, it wasn’t until everyone’s seatbelts were fastened that the sound system produced any music. That’s right: no seatbelt, no tunes! Today’s kids love music enough they’ll definitely be willing to buckle up to hear their favorite jams. But there are plenty of other technological tools to help increase safety. GPS systems, “black boxes” (similar to those on airplanes), and even dash-mounted cameras can improve driver accountability if used and discussed. Speaking of discussions….
  3. Talk about safe driving on a frequent basis. Regularly discuss safety with your teen drivers. Did a friend of theirs get pulled over for speeding? Use that as teachable moment. Was your family in a close call? Spend a few moments talking about why it happened and how it could have been avoided (on both sides). Did an accident make the local news? If so, tactfully reference it so you can address the ever-present need of awareness and concentration behind the wheel. Bear in mind, these talks are more of a “process” than an “event,” so keep em going!

As a pastor, I know firsthand the devastation brought into a community when a car accident claims the lives of young drivers (and others). Do everything in your power, wisdom, and resources to prevent the danger and pain these accidents cause.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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