A report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that more than 11,000 people died in traffic accidents in the third quarter of 2020, a more than 13% increase from 2019. Many of these fatalities involved teen drivers, who may have less refined driving skills than teens who received their license before the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns.
In fact, data from 2017 indicates that the crash rate per mile is 50% higher for 16-year-old drivers when compared to 18-19-year-old drivers, and less driving experience is likely to correlate with a higher rate of crashes.
In addition to the risk posed by inexperienced teen drivers, drivers overall have been shown to engage in riskier behavior during the COVID-19 crisis when compared to past years. This could be due to a variety of factors and may be partially a result of pent-up stress due to the social, emotional, and financial pressures associated with the pandemic. Traffic enforcement was also reduced during the height of the pandemic, making drivers less likely to obey speed limits, stop signs, red lights, and other common traffic rules.
Some of the major risks for teen drivers include speeding, failing to wear a seatbelt, texting while driving, and driving while intoxicated. A 2015-2019 study conducted by the GHSA (Governors Highway Safety Association) determined that from 2015-2019, teens between 16-19 had proportionally more speeding-related fatal crashes than any other age group.
In addition, 38% of teens in a study conducted by the NSC (National Safety Council) said they drove and texted at least one time during the last month. In addition, those teens that also said they rarely use seatbelts reported that they were more than 20% more likely to text while driving. Teens in rural areas were especially more likely to engage in these behaviors, which is concerning due to the fact that crashes in rural areas are more likely to be fatal than those that occur in suburban or urban locations. This occurs for a variety of reasons but is likely linked to higher speed limits, less traffic enforcement, and less lighting, stop signs, and traffic lights in rural areas compared to urban or suburban ones.