2015’s Best and Worst States for Teen Drivers

by Richie Bernardo

WH-2014-Best-and-Worst-States-for-Teen-DriversGetting a driver’s license at 16 is considered a rite of passage in American culture. But this exciting coming-of-age has instead become a death sentence for thousands of teens each year. Motor-vehicle accidents continue to be the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 16 and 19, the age group with the highest risk of crashes.

And the financial implications are staggering. Although 15- to 24-year-olds make up only 14 percent of the population, they rack up nearly a third of all costs resulting from motor vehicle injuries. That’s not counting the costs of auto maintenance, insurance premiums, possible traffic citations and other vehicular incidents — expenses that can pile up over time.

As summer progresses, it’s time to reflect on the fact that more teen drivers are newly minted during this season than any other, when an average of 250 teens are killed in car accidents each month.

To help parents ensure their teens’ safety behind the wheel and safeguard their finances against unforeseeable events, WalletHub analyzed the teen-driving environment in the 50 states across 16 key metrics. Our data set ranges from the number of teen driver fatalities to the average cost of car repairs to the presence of impaired-driving laws. The complete ranking, as well as expert commentary and a detailed methodology, can be found below.

Main Findings

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Overall Rank

State

“Safety Conditions” Rank

“Economic Environment” Rank

“Driving Laws” Rank

1 New York 3 2 6
2 Oregon 2 23 3
3 Massachusetts 1 28 25
4 Hawaii 4 5 15
5 Delaware 7 39 2
6 Illinois 8 32 4
7 Connecticut 6 42 24
8 Nevada 10 6 29
9 Rhode Island 9 45 13
10 New Jersey 12 11 23
11 Washington 18 31 1
12 California 11 26 16
13 Louisiana 19 15 5
14 Maryland 14 7 28
15 Alaska 21 19 7
16 Virginia 14 33 21
17 Utah 13 47 18
18 Georgia 19 43 9
19 Ohio 5 41 45
20 North Carolina 26 8 12
21 West Virginia 25 29 9
22 Texas 17 14 35
23 Michigan 27 1 34
24 Tennessee 33 18 7
25 New Mexico 34 3 20
26 Florida 14 17 41
27 Indiana 22 44 16
28 Minnesota 24 38 27
29 Colorado 37 13 18
30 South Carolina 34 29 14
31 New Hampshire 28 46 26
32 Alabama 30 27 31
33 Kansas 42 10 11
34 Pennsylvania 31 21 37
35 Kentucky 36 37 30
36 Wisconsin 38 15 32
37 Vermont 22 48 44
38 Arizona 29 35 43
39 Iowa 32 34 40
40 Arkansas 39 36 32
41 Idaho 41 25 36
42 Maine 46 49 22
43 Mississippi 40 4 49
44 Oklahoma 46 9 39
45 Nebraska 43 20 47
46 Missouri 44 22 45
47 Wyoming 45 50 42
48 North Dakota 50 40 38
49 Montana 49 24 48
50 South Dakota 48 12 50

Best-&-Worst-States-for-Teen-Drivers-Artwork

Ask the Experts

Although teens are responsible for their own actions, their parents shoulder much of the emotional and financial consequences. And in areas where teen deaths resulting from car crashes are most prevalent, it’s up to lawmakers to implement programs and policies that are aimed at reducing those numbers. For additional insight and advice, we turned to a panel of experts from various backgrounds. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:

  1. What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?
  2. What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?
  3. What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?
  4. What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?
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  • Beth Ebel Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital
  • Philip Stinson Associate Professor in the Criminal Justice Program at Bowling Green State University
  • Gordon A. Crews Dean and Professor of Criminal Justice & Criminology at Tiffin University
  • David S. Hurwitz Associate Professor of Transportation Engineering in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University
  • Daniel V. McGehee Director of the Transportation & Vehicle Safety Research at University of Iowa
  • Andrea Gielen Professor and Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Yifrah Kaminer Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and Research Scientist in the Alcohol Research Center at University of Connecticut School of Medicine
  • Laura Stanley Associate Professor in the Mechanical & Industrial Engineering Department at Montana State University
  • Corey Slovis Chairman and Professor of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
  • Kelly K. Browning Executive Director at Impact Teen Drivers
  • Allison E. Curry Senior Scientist and Director of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Catherine C. McDonald Assistant Professor at University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing, and Principal Investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Mary Aitken Professor of Pediatrics at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
  • Despina Stavrinos Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Leon James Professor of Psychology at University of Hawaii at Manoa, College of Social Sciences
  • David Neyens Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at Clemson University
  • Gail Kelly Senior Vice President of Teen Programs at Safety Center Incorporated

Beth Ebel

Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital
Beth Ebel
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?
  • Learn and follow the graduated driving licensing laws in your state: zero tolerance for alcohol; limited nighttime driving; no friends in the car; seat belt use mandatory; no cell phone while driving. They work and reduce crash rates.
  • Clearly spell out your expectations for driving rules, with the consequences. Follow them.
  • Crash rates are lower when a teen knows they are borrowing YOUR car, rather than driving their OWN car. If parents are paying for insurance, car or gas, it is a parental car.
  • Practice. The more time a teen spends in supervised driving, the safer.
  • Model good behaviors yourself: seat belt use every trip. Put down your phone and enjoy the opportunity to talk with your kids in the car or learn about the latest in teen music choice. You'll be safe AND cool!
What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

The leading cause of serious injury for teens is car crashes. Driving is a complicated task and takes time to learn. See above too.

What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?

The best ways to reduce costs are to reduce crash risk (good for everyone). Some families are delaying independent licensing to give kids more practice time.
  • Take every opportunity to practice supervised driving.
  • Consider in-vehicle technologies for early independent driving (e.g., in vehicle camera systems). Some insurance companies will provide these for free.
  • Find ways for the teen to contribute to car costs - getting a job, paying for gas, also teach important life skills.
What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?
  • The single most important step for policymakers is to ensure that each state has a primary enforcement seat belt law. This would save lives in every state, saves tax dollars and brings in federal incentives.
  • Lawmakers can consider updating distracted driving laws to match federal standards. Again, this saves lives, tax dollars and brings in federal highway safety incentives.
  • New Jersey has adopted an innovative "license decal" program, so that new drivers are identified by a small red square on the license plate. This program helps to enforce graduated driving license laws, and is associated with a significant decrease in crashes for new drivers.

Philip Stinson

Associate Professor in the Criminal Justice Program at Bowling Green State University
Philip Stinson
What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

The biggest risk that teen drivers face is getting into an accident. Even though young drivers typically have better reaction time (gross motor skills), they lack the experience of older drivers. Many accidents involving teens occur close to home, and often occur when a teen driver is distracted. Those distractions include talking on a cell phone, texting, or paying attention to their passengers (talking, etc.) and not paying attention to driving. The cell phone is a huge problem for parents. Obviously, many parents want their teenage children to have a cell phone with them for safety reasons, but it is very important that rules be in place limiting the use of a cell phone while driving.

Gordon A. Crews

Dean and Professor of Criminal Justice & Criminology at Tiffin University
Gordon A. Crews
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

I think it goes without saying; the best tip to parents is to talk to their teens about driving often and ride along with them as much as they can. Many of the tips we give to younger drivers may in fact save their lives one day. While we know they will probably be on their best behavior with a parent in the car with them, it still allows the parent to observe any “bad habits” the young driver might already be starting to possess.

While it may sound silly to some, the messages behind “click it or ticket” and “stay alive, don’t text and drive” are extremely important to remember. Not wearing a seat belt and being distracted by “being on a cell phone” are two major causes of traffic accidents and extreme resulting injury. Parents need to be vigilant in reminding their teens of these facts. We all like to “play with” our new car stereo system or “rubber neck” when something catches our eye along the roadside, but teens need to be reminded how dangerous this can be.

Parents also need to remind their teens that, unfortunately, they cannot assume all other drivers will do as they should on the roadway. People speed, slam on their breaks, run stop signs and stop lights, etc. Teens must be reminded to watch all drivers on the road and know that driving conditions can change in a second, especially when another drivers places you in an unsafe situation.

Finally, parents should remind their teens to constantly evaluate their driving skills and abilities. Knowing yourself and what you can do and not do when it comes to driving will often keep one from entering a very dangerous situation (ice, snow, rain, nighttime, etc.). Tell them that if they are not comfortable with a driving situation, don’t do it.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

One might say that the biggest risk teen drivers face are other teen drivers. Most teen drivers on American roads do not have sufficient practical experience to handle the myriad driving situations they will encounter as first time licensed drivers. Even if they have been taught how to drive by their parents, friends, or even driving instructors, they probably have not had the opportunity to experience many of the driving hazards that exist. Construction zones, damaged road areas, detours, short on and off ramps, slow drivers, fast drivers, aggressive drivers, are all things which we learn over many years of driving to handle. This is not to mention all of the situations weather can cause.

Teens often bring the inherent impulsiveness of their young nature into their driving. Combining impulsiveness with inexperience can be a very deadly mix. Obviously, if there are other teens in the car, this might cause one to want to “show off” or take chances they might not normally take if they were driving alone or with a parent. Also, they often lack the experience to know how to handle distractions inside and outside of the vehicle. Driving involves a great deal of cognitive activities all at the same time. Naturally, the road is going to be changing constantly as one encounters new turns and other drivers. Teen drivers must realize that even a moment’s glance below or to the side can cause a serious accident.

Given the nature of being a teenager, one will probably want to be in the car and on the road often in that it is a new taste of freedom and personal control - therefore they are going to be on the road a great deal. They often have jobs which cause them to have to drive very early in the morning, or very late at night - both are hazards to all, especially inexperienced drivers.

Finally, and it goes without saying, the use of alcohol or other drugs and driving simply cannot occur. Many older experienced alcohol users feel, albeit incorrect, that they can safely drive after “a few drinks”. While it is not true for anyone, it is definitely not true for teens who are inexperienced drinkers and drivers.

Sadly, no matter how strong a driver is, they still must worry about others on the roads that are not as strong.

What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?

Insuring a teen driver is expensive no matter where one lives. Waiting until your child turns 25 years of age to see their first decrease in cost of coverage is a hallmark for many. Many insurance companies do give discounts for “good grades”. Why this should not be the only incentive for doing well in school, it is a great tool for parents to connect good behavior with more freedom and responsibility. Many parents make their children work to pay for their own car insurance, therefore teens learn quickly the desire for any “discounts” in any cost. Also, one area that I think many parents do not think about is to teach your child how to take care of a vehicle. While you cannot expect your child to be a mechanic, they can be taught the warning signs of when a car needs service or if a vehicle is unsafe to drive. While insurance is a major expense, replacing the family car can be much greater!

What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

Insuring a teen driver is expensive no matter where one lives. Waiting until your child turns 25 years of age to see their first decrease in cost of coverage is a hallmark for many. Many insurance companies do give discounts for “good grades”. Why this should not be the only incentive for doing well in school, it is a great tool for parents to connect good behavior with more freedom and responsibility. Many parents make their children work to pay for their own car insurance, therefore teens learn quickly the desire for any “discounts” in any cost. Also, one area that I think many parents do not think about is to teach your child how to take care of a vehicle. While you cannot expect your child to be a mechanic, they can be taught the warning signs of when a car needs service or if a vehicle is unsafe to drive. While insurance is a major expense, replacing the family car can be much greater!

David S. Hurwitz

Associate Professor of Transportation Engineering in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University
David S. Hurwitz
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

Parents in particular, serve as an important role model for their children every time they get behind the wheel. To institutionalize good driving behaviors in teens, we must all accept the responsibility of modeling good driving behaviors for all of our passengers.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

That is an outstanding question. To me their biggest risk is lack of experience. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that the risk and hazard perception of teen drivers is less developed than that of drivers with more experience. This means that they may not accurately perceive the risks they are being exposed to when say approaching a horizontal curve at a disproportionately high speed.

What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

Graduated licensing is one opportunity, and that has been implemented by states around the country. Another is to really look at driver education in a more comprehensive way. I think significant opportunities remain to improve the performance of these programs in accelerating the progression of novice drivers to more expert performance levels.

Daniel V. McGehee

Director of the Transportation & Vehicle Safety Research at University of Iowa
Daniel V. McGehee
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

Practice, practice, practice – the more you drive with them, the better – even after they get their license. As part of the supervised practice driving – go driving with them when the weather is bad – snow, ice, rain, dark — that crazy on or off ramp that you curse every time you drive it. The last thing you want to do is have your teen experience those challenging conditions for the first time by themselves.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

Driving is the most dangerous thing we let our kids do. There are many risks from inexperience on down. A recent study we just completed that examined over 1,700 crashes with video cameras on board found that other teen passengers were the biggest distraction – more that texting or the phone. It’s well known that a teen’s personality changes when they have peers around. This is one that most don’t realize is really dangerous.

What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?

Don’t crash or get a moving violation. These will cause your rates to skyrocket and may even result in a license revocation in some states.

What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

There are four main things that policymakers can do to enhance their Graduated Driver Licensing Systems:
  1. Extend the permit from six months to a full calendar year before they go for their intermediate license;
  2. For at least the first six months, limit the number of passengers to one;
  3. Complete electronics ban;
  4. No driving after 10:00 (not a curfew, just no driving).

Andrea Gielen

Professor and Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Andrea Gielen
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?
  • Teen drivers need plenty of supervised practice, under different conditions, to develop safe driving skills
  • Teens are safer as new drivers when they don’t have distractions like other passengers
  • Parents can have a big impact on their teen driver’s safety by 1) establishing rules that both the teen and the parent agree on, such as always wearing a seat belt and never texting while driving, and 2) setting a good example by being a safe driver
  • Parents should make sure their state has a strong graduated driver licensing policy (GDL)
What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?
  • Lack of experience – driving is a complex task that takes skills, practice, and good judgment: - Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations; they are also more likely to speed and allow shorter headways
  • Distracted driving is dangerous for everyone, but when combined with lack of experience, can be deadly: - Drivers who engage in non-driving activities while behind the wheel are 2-3 times more likely to experience a near-crash or crash. - Text messaging while driving increases the risk of a high-risk driving event by 23 times compared to non-distracted driving.
  • Alcohol is a continuing problem in teen crashes: - In 2012, 23% of drivers aged 15 to 20 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes were drinking.
  • Teens have the lowest rates of seat belt use of all ages: - In 2013, only 55% of high school students reported wearing seat belts.
What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?
  • Strong GDL policies
  • Primary seat belt laws
  • Speed enforcement
  • Underage drinking policies

Yifrah Kaminer

Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and Research Scientist in the Alcohol Research Center at University of Connecticut School of Medicine
Yifrah Kaminer
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

My advice to parents would be to postpone getting a driving license until 18 years of age.

The reason for my recommendation for delaying initiation of driving is due to the process of maturation of the brain those adolescents are going through. This includes the maturation of the pre frontal cortex (PFC) - an area that is responsible for inhibition of the limbic system that is motivated by rewards as well as planning and abstract thinking.

An example regarding the effect of maturation:

In NJ, where the minimum driving age is 17, there are approximately 5 fatalities per 100,000 adolescents. In CT where the minimum driving age is 16, there are 22 fatalities per 100,000 teens!

Impulsivity is a trait that reaches its peak between the ages of 15-16 years. Therefore, it is a “bad idea” to grant teens a license to kill and/or be killed at 16.

Laura Stanley

Associate Professor in the Mechanical & Industrial Engineering Department at Montana State University
Laura Stanley
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

First and foremost, be a role model for your teen. This starts not when they are teens, but as soon as they are passengers in the vehicle. This includes putting the phone down yourself during driving, wear your seatbelt, follow speed limits and rules of the road, and not drinking and driving.

Secondly, get involved in helping your teen be a safe driver. Key Tips: 1.) help enforce your states' GDL laws w/your teen. 2.) Our research and others have shown the power and influence of peers. A major threat that parents don’t realize is that the number one danger for their teen is driving or riding in a car with another teen driver. Limit the number of teens in the vehicle to one or zero. 3.) Provide several opportunities for them to practice supervised driving especially emphasizing the need to scan on and off the roadway for potential hazards such as other vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

Driver inexperience. Specifically, teens are very poor at hazard perception, that is they lack the experience early on (especially during the first 6 months of driving) in properly scanning their environments to identify potential hazards on or near the roadway (e.g., obstructed views of pedestrian crossings). Their field of view is much narrower than that of an experienced driver, making them especially vulnerable to crashes. Moreover, this skill is difficult to monitor during driver training because a teacher or parent cannot visually detect if their student/teen are performing the necessary eye scanning techniques. Researchers can do so through the use of eye trackers (our research on the topic).

Corey Slovis

Chairman and Professor of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Corey Slovis
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

Teen drivers see the best outcomes, parents fear the worst outcomes... it is difficult to explain to teens that bad things do happen, though rarely, to young, healthy, filled with life, new drivers. Be patient, but the teen has got to hear and finally believe that his or her life is actually at risk as they learn to become expert drivers… Bad things can happen to good people

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

Distractions. The cell phone, radio, friends, things in the car, things outside the car, are all working to try to distract the new driver. Friends all talking + music playing + cell phone message = driving trying to do multiple things at once = BADNESS

What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?
  • Go slower, not faster in the beginning;
  • No cell phone on while driving;
  • No more than one or two friends early on when a new driver;
  • Older bigger car;
  • Never a fast new car to start;
  • Less driving at night or at dusk;
  • Parents in the car more not less.
What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

Block talking and texting via technology.

Kelly K. Browning

Executive Director at Impact Teen Drivers
Kelly K. Browning
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

The best tip I can offer to parents is to be involved throughout their teens’ driving experience. Parents need to understand they are the number one influencer of their teens’ driving attitudes and behaviors. Teens have been sitting next to or behind their parents for at least 15 years — they have been watching and listening to everything their parents do behind the wheel. If parents drive a little too fast, slugging back a latte and talking on the cell while steering with their knee, is it any wonder why their teens do the same thing? “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a strategy for success when it comes to safe driving behaviors. Being involved in children’s learning to drive experience is critical from the very start. Choose a quality driving school — don’t necessarily choose a driving school because they offer a $9.99 Groupon, but put as much effort into choosing a driving school as choosing a good neighborhood in which to live or college to attend.

The number one killer of young people in America is car crashes, and the vast majority of these do not involve alcohol and drugs, but everyday reckless and distracted driving. Everyday behaviors such as putting on makeup, talking with friends, shuffling the music, or texting are things everyone does, but behind the wheel of a vehicle they can and often do become lethal.

Finally, parents should educate themselves about the laws in their state that are designed to keep kids safe. All fifty states have adopted Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, and GDL laws have reduced teen driving fatalities by 40-60% across the U.S. since their inception. Most states’ GDL law involves nighttime driving and passenger restrictions. GDL laws reduce teens’ exposure to the highest risk situations — nighttime driving and teen passengers — while beginning drivers gain driving experience. Remember the state law is the minimum. Restricting teen passengers in a teen’s vehicle for at least the first year and having a curfew of close to 9:00 p.m. for teen driving are best practices. Most teen crashes happen within the first year of their driving experience — don’t assume that teens who wait to get their license until eighteen years of age, shouldn’t also have these high risk situations reduced until they get a full year of driving experience under their belt.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

The greatest risks teen drivers face are quite simply lack of driving experience and forgetting that good decision making is essential every time they get behind the wheel — whether as drivers or passengers. The only way to learn how to drive is by doing it, and teens need time to gradually gain experience in lower risk situations under adult supervision and coaching. Parents should talk with their kids and let them know the critical importance of making good decisions behind the wheel every time, whether as a driver or passenger. This isn’t a one-time conversation, but should be an ongoing and regular conversation between parents and their teens every time their teens get behind the wheel, whether as drivers or passengers. It is human nature to have a “not me” attitude—I am a good person, my kid is a good kid — but good kids can and do make poor decisions.

Unfortunately, behind the wheel is not the place for these mistakes; it only takes one poor decision behind the wheel to alter or end a child’s life. Reckless and distracted driving simply isn’t worth it—parents need to talk with their kids and keep talking to them. Teens need reminders to understand what good decisions behind the wheel are — remember it is the good decision making part of the brain that isn’t fully developed yet in teens — so talking through what a good decision is and how to make it before teens are in dangerous situations, is critical to keeping them safe.

Make sure teens know the importance of buckling up properly, putting distractions such as cell phones, music, etc., away before starting the vehicle, and speaking up if they feel unsafe when riding in a vehicle with their friends, or even other adults.

What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?
  • Practice, practice, and practice. Minimize the exposure teens have to high risk situations until after their first year of driving experience. Parents should be involved in driving with their teens during all weather conditions to give them valuable experience. Parents should also be sure their children don’t get behind the wheel of a vehicle when they are tired — after a game, when they haven’t had enough sleep, etc.
  • Strongly consider investing in an evidence-based program demonstrated to reduce crashes. For example, teenSMART is an evidence-based program that almost all state insurance commissioners have approved for up to a 20% insurance premium reduction for teens that successfully complete the course. The program discount is offered due to reduced crash rates for those teens that have completed the program.
What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

I think the most significant policy that could directly reduce serious injuries and teen driving fatalities would be to apply a Graduated Driver Licensing program to all new drivers regardless of age. Currently, in most states, once a teen reaches eighteen years of age, there are no restrictions on their license, no matter of how long they have had their license.

Allison E. Curry

Senior Scientist and Director of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Allison E. Curry
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?
  • Take the Learner Permit period seriously.

    Current licensing policies in the U.S. place the burden of responsibility on parents to make sure their teens are skilled safe drivers before they get a license. This means parents need to coordinate and lead supervised practice driving and, for some who can afford it, pay for professional driving school instruction. While Driver Ed programs do cover the basics and can help a new driver learn specific skills, they do not provide sufficient hours of practice driving. It’s up to parents and caregivers to provide the recommended 50-120 hours of practice.

    From our research at CHOP, we know the three most common errors that cause teen drivers to crash -- driving too fast for the road conditions, not scanning and recognizing hazards in the driving environment, and being distracted. Inadequate braking in a hazardous situation and following too close to the vehicle in front are also critical errors novice teen drivers make.

    Our research team at CHOP has developed and evaluated the TeenDrivingPlan, which helps parents conduct more effective supervised driving practice. It includes short videos on how to practice specific skills and how to know when their teen is getting it, as well as common errors to work on. A randomized clinical trial demonstrated that TeenDrivingPlan improved the driving performance of teenage permit holders by providing parents with the tools needed to be better driving supervisors. We’ve made the videos, Goal Guide and Logging/ Rating Tool available for free as the TeenDrivingPlan Parent Guide. The goal here is for teens to have more skills and experience before they start driving on their own, to reduce their risk of crashing.


  • Use Graduated Driver Licensing to set house rules for driving.

    Once teens are driving on their own, parents should use Graduated Driver Licensing practices to help set rules for driving. For instance, no driving with more than one peer passenger for the first 6-12 months unless an adult is in the car. Limit nighttime driving at first until they get enough supervised practice driving at night in different conditions and environments.
What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

There are many reasons teens crash, but the main reason teens die in car crashes is their decision to not use their seat belt on every drive, both as a driver and as a passenger.

Teens, who have spent their childhood buckled up in child safety seats, booster seats and seat belts when riding with their parents, are suddenly far less likely to use their seat belts when riding in a vehicle without their parents. Your teens need to continue to hear regular reminders about seat belts. Be as annoying about those reminders as you can. What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?
  • Strengthen GDL Laws.

    There is building momentum for states to strengthen graduated driver licensing laws, in part because of recent research on what provisions work to reduce teen driver crash rates.

    For instance, recent CHOP research showed that adding a motor vehicle identifier (or decal) provision to an already strong GDL program in New Jersey was associated with a 9.5% sustained drop in crash rates among intermediate licensed drivers. Decals make it easier for law enforcement to identify vehicles with an intermediate licensed driver behind the wheel.

    CHOP research sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has shown that extending the age requirements for GDL might also reduce crash rates for older novice teen drivers. In most states, GDL provisions only apply to new drivers under age 18, but a third of drivers delay getting a license until age 18 or older and could benefit from a phased approach to driving.

    There is also recent international expert consensus on optimal GDL provisions that was published in a National Safety Council Report called A New GDL Framework: Evidence Base to Integrate Novice Driver Strategies. It outlines the evidence base for optimal GDL provisions.

Catherine C. McDonald

Assistant Professor at University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing, and Principal Investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Catherine C. McDonald
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?
  • Take the Learner Permit period seriously.

    There are a number of resources and messages out there about what parents need to do to keep their teens safe when licensed and driving on their own, but it’s even more critical for parents to be involved during the learner permit period prior to licensure.

    It takes more than just being a good driver to be able to break down and teach critical driving skills. For adults, driving has become a nearly autonomic or intuitive task, and we forget what is behind our skills that keep us from crashing. For instance, saying “slow down” to your teen is insufficient. You need to point out when and how to ease up on the gas pedal and how to apply the brake pedal before coming to a full stop.

    Parents need to coach their teens to manage their speed, scan for hazards, set a safe following distance at different speeds, and scan while making left hand turns. It’s also important to coach on how to shut out distractions and focus on driving tasks.


  • Help your teen manage and mitigate distractions.

    Teens today are also faced with distractions both inside and outside the car. Teens can be distracted by cell phones, passengers, GPS devices and even things like eating and glancing too long at things happening outside the vehicle. Parents can have rules related to restricting the number of passengers and no cell phone use in the car. Parents can also model safe driving behaviors by also not using a cell phone while driving.


  • Have teens ask for the keys.

    In our research, we found that teens who shared a family car were less likely, than those who were the primary driver of a car, to have been in a crash. They also reported safer driving habits, such as always wearing a seatbelt.

    Having a teen driver ask for the keys to the car may give parents that opportunity to remind him or her to buckle up, to review the trip route and the driving challenges of that route, as well as to ask about who they’ll be with, when they’ll be home, and to remind them to turn off the cell phone until they get to their destination.

    While you might need an extra car around once your teen is driving, make it clear it is still a family car and it requires permission to use it.
What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?

When you are getting ready to add a teen driver to your plan, ask your insurance company if they have any programs you can participate in to reduce insurance premiums.

What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

Strengthen Driver Assessment in the Licensing Process.

Our research with the simulated driving assessment shows that we can safely assess driving skill in high-risk driving scenarios that commonly lead to crashes. Driver licensing examiners are understandably reluctant and unable to assess skills in some high-risk scenarios in an on-the-road exam. However, these are the very skills that need to be assessed to help determine if a driver has what it takes to avoid a crash. Simulated driving assessments can also be used to identify skills deficits requiring continued practice or remediation.

Mary Aitken

Professor of Pediatrics at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Mary Aitken
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

First, parents should model safe driving behavior for their children — from an early age. Parents are the first driving teachers for their children, whether they know if or not! Safe behavior like wearing a seat belt consistently, requiring appropriate restraints from car seat to booster seat to seat belts for children, abiding by speed limits and other driving laws, and avoiding cellphone use and texting while driving show teen drivers how to behave responsibly behind the wheel.

Second, parents should get informed about issues and risks for teenagers behind the wheel and the emerging research about what works, to minimize the risks and help teen drivers acquire this important life skill. A staged approach to learning and gradual increases in exposure to new driving situations has been shown to improve skills and reduce crashes. Knowing about the principles of graduated driver licensing is key — under GDL, new drivers learn to drive with lower exposure to driving situations that research has shown present the highest risk for novice teen drivers. Most states now have a learner license that requires an adult driver in the car, and intermediate license with independent driving with restrictions on the number of teen passengers in the car, night time driving, and other distractions, and finally a full, unrestricted license. Parents who understand and help enforce these policies can help their teens be safer. And the law is only the minimum set of rules for the road — having a written driving contract outlining house rules for driving and consequences for not abiding by them — helps to establish guidelines and communication about safe driving. Teen driving contracts can be found online and can be tailored to the needs of each family.

Finally, parents should be actively involved in the learning process for their teen driver. Recent research shows that practice with an experienced driver is a critical part of the learning process for a new teen driver. Exposure to a minimum of 30-50 hours of on road, supervised driving under a variety of circumstances is important. This includes both a variety of road types — quiet neighborhood streets through highways — at different times of day and under different weather conditions. Many states require that parents log a minimum number of hours on-road, and guides and other tools for how to choose how to go about it and gradually expose the teen can be very helpful.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

Teens are at high risk because of a combination of inexperience and their normal developmental stage. The main goal of graduated licensing provisions is to lower the risk of a crash, and this means teens need to take responsibility for learning about and abiding by these laws. In addition, teen drivers need lots of supervised time behind the wheel, because this complicated task is not something that anyone can do without a lot of practice. Despite practice and abiding by the rules, however, crashes do occur, so wearing a seat belt on every drive is absolutely the most important thing for a teen — or any — driver. Wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of dying in a crash by about half, because it keeps you in the vehicle rather than being ejected in a serious collision.

What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?

Many insurance companies have programs designed for teen drivers and some of these help qualify policy-owners for discounts. Some will discount policies with evidence of good grades or proof of on-road or other driver education. The best way to keep premiums down is to avoid crashes and citations by taking a thorough, careful approach to learning to drive and by abiding by driving laws — wearing seatbelts, adhering to speed limits, and avoiding distractions and intoxication.

What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

Setting and encouraging enforcement of evidence-based motor vehicle safety policies is the biggest contribution policy makers can make for teen drivers. Strong graduated driver license laws are proven to reduce crashes and deaths among teen drivers — and the best laws have passenger restrictions and night time driving curfews.

Despina Stavrinos

Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Alabama at Birmingham
Despina Stavrinos
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

Parents should consider the following techniques for improving teen driver safety:
  • Parents play a pivotal role in preserving the safety of their teen drivers. There are a number of online resources available to parents. One is the CDC website. I think the most important tip would be to consider that parents should lead by example, to ensure that their teens are making the right decisions when they get behind the wheel. Also, keep in mind that children are watching and learning from their parents about what is appropriate (or inappropriate) behavior behind the wheel. This starts from a very early age - from the moment they turn from rear-facing car seats to front-facing, they begin to observe the driver and the roadway environment.
  • Parent-teen contracts are a useful way to set rules about what is allowed/not allowed with regard to driving. For example, parents can set limits to the number of teen passengers allowed in the vehicle, no distractions, such as talking on a cell phone or texting, no drinking and driving, and no early morning or late night driving. Contracts set clear expectations about driving and can be customized to enable the family to discuss and decide what guidelines are most pertinent for them.
What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

Car crashes are the leading cause of death of teenagers. Most crashes actually occur in the first year a teen has their license, primarily because they lack experience with driving. There are a number of factors that can further exacerbate this risk. One of the primary causes of crashes is driver inattention – or that is, not paying attention to what they are supposed to be doing, which is driving!

For example, distractions behind the wheel are a huge problem. For many teens, they have several years of experience with texting and using cell phones which may lead to an overestimation of ability with using electronic devices while driving. There are many other sources of non-technology related distractions, such as teen passengers, eating, and grooming. More information about distracted driving can be found here.

What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) systems are one way states have promoted teen driver safety. GDL laws provide stages of independence for teen drivers such that as drivers move through the three stages, they are given more driving privileges such as driving at night or with passengers. With regard to distraction in particular, many states have made advances towards combating this major public health issue by passing bans on texting. This is an important first step, but there are still a few states that either have no ban or only a partial texting ban. Few states have adopted bans on talking on a hand-held cell phone use for novice drivers which is very surprising, given the data that suggests that talking on a cell phone also impacts driver safety. I believe more states should look into these issues.

Leon James

Professor of Psychology at University of Hawaii at Manoa, College of Social Sciences
Leon James
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

It’s important for teen drivers to perceive that parents are involved in their driving. Take a few minutes every day to discuss driving issues together. A good source for the discussions is the news about distracted driving. Use a Web search engine in News to search for “distracted driving” stories of the day. Discuss with each other what is happening and why. This will impress teen drivers to pay attention to the topic. Parents need to acknowledge that they also work to keep themselves from being distracted while driving. Parents need to acknowledge also that they may have contributed to the aggressive driving tendency of their children by driving them around while children in the back seat which I call “road rage nursery” as it is the beginning of their driving lessons. They copy and imbibe the parents’ verbal road rage and their style of driving such as lane changes and sudden stops.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

Teen drivers need to learn to manage their traffic emotions. All drivers need to learn to monitor their thoughts behind the wheel. This means being aware of what you are thinking, especially about other drivers. Negative thoughts and derogatory verbal comments are common. This type of negative “mental rumination” makes drivers more vulnerable to explosions and mistakes in judgment. As well, driving with friends in the car as a passenger is dangerous and they need to know and observe how this is so.

What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

One is to make sure that driver education courses handle problems such as distracted driving and managing traffic emotions. They should also consider the ways they can encourage lifelong driver self-improvement activities. Drivers need to continue training themselves and not assume they are already perfect.

David Neyens

Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at Clemson University
David Neyens
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

Research suggests that when parents manage teen’s driving (especially at the learner phase and for newly licensed drivers), safety outcomes can be improved. Parents should be involved in the teens driving even after they have a license. Being involved and engaged have recently been shown to be very important for teen driver safety.

Teenage drivers’ crashes and injuries are associated with a number of behavior and risk taking factors. Parents should discuss the risks associated with not wearing seatbelts, driver distraction (e.g., cell phone apps, texting, and passengers), reckless driving, and impaired driving (both alcohol and drugs) with their teenage drivers. Graduated Drivers Licensing programs are designed to allow teens to gain driving experience in lower-risk situations, but they vary some state to state. Parents can ensure that these programs are followed and that the teens develop their skills and experience with guidance and in lower risk situations.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

Teen drivers face several unique risk factors. They do not have experience with driving tasks and may not have skills to deal with some dangerous or complex situations. Mix that with a group that demonstrates high risk taking behaviors, is willing to adopt and engage technology, and is influenced by their peers and you have what can be a dangerous combination. The biggest risk that teen drivers face is this combination of issues. Teens should put down the cell phone or other technology, should wear their seatbelt, and should obey the speed limit to substantially reduce their risk of crashes and injuries.

Gail Kelly

Senior Vice President of Teen Programs at Safety Center Incorporated
Gail Kelly
What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?

Parents should start traffic safety lessons when teens are in the passenger seat and continue supervised driving sessions through the first year their teen is a solo driver. The role model teens observe most frequently is their parents behind the wheel and this is the primary influence on their perceptions about safe driving attitudes and behavior. As teens become mature, their peer network also becomes an important influence; parents continuing to set expectations for earning independence reduce risks for teen passengers and drivers.

Inexperience is a factor in most novice driver car crashes and coaching teens to recognize hazards and develop “what if” strategies for avoiding unsafe driving situations will help teens develop lifelong safe driving skills, attitudes, and behavior.

What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?

The primary factor in a majority of teen car crashes is inexperience, which causes teens to underestimate potential hazards and to be overconfident in their ability to respond to unsafe driving situations.

Graduated Driver License (GDL) is a set of best practices for reducing risks while teen drivers gain experience by placing restrictions on teen passengers and nighttime driving. Parents are the first line of enforcement for monitoring trips to ensure GDL compliance and to reinforce responsible teen safe driving decisions. Teens mature and learn at different rates and so it is important to plan structured driving situations so they gradually gain defensive driving experience in all types of roadway, traffic and weather conditions.

What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?

Insurance companies offer discounts as an incentive for teens to enroll in Alive at 25, teenSMART and other courses to help novice driver recognize hazards and develop defensive driving skills.

What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

GDL has been effective in reducing car crashes for 16 and 17-year-old novice drivers and it should be extended to include newly licensed drivers up to the age of 21. An analysis by California Department of Motor Vehicles of driver injuries since the inception of GDL in 1998 found that approximately 70% of teens were avoiding GDL and waiting until after the age of 18 to get their license. Results showed the highest crash risk immediately following licensure and there was an increase in crashes for drivers aged 18 to 20 years of age. New drivers, regardless of their age, have a higher crash risk compared with more experienced drivers and GDL restrictions would help to protect all roadway users while novice drivers develop skills and learn to process complex driving situations.

Methodology

In order to identify the best and worst states for teen drivers, WalletHub analyzed the teen-driving environment in the 50 states across three key dimensions, including “Safety Conditions,” “Economic Environment” and “Driving Laws.” We then identified 16 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights.

Safety Conditions – Total Weight: 15

  • Number of Teen Driver Fatalities per 100,000 Teens: Double Weight
  • Number of Vehicle Miles Traveled per Capita: Full Weight
  • Number of Teen “Under the Influence” Traffic Violations per 100,000 Teens: Double Weight
  • Quality of Roads: Full Weight

Economic Environment – Total Weight: 5

  • Maximum Cost of a Speeding Ticket: Half Weight
  • Maximum Cost of a Red-Light Ticket: Half Weight
  • Maximum Amount of First-Offense Fines for Not Wearing a Seat Belt: Half Weight
  • Premium Increase After Adding a Teen Driver to a Parent’s Auto Insurance Policy: Double Weight
  • Average Cost of Car Repairs: Full Weight
  • WalletHub “States With the Highest & Lowest Insurance Premium Penalties for High Risk Drivers” Ranking: Full Weight

Driving Laws – Total Weight: 10

  • Teen Driver's Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program Laws: Full Weight
  • Presence of Occupant-Protection Laws: Full Weight
  • Presence of Impaired-Driving Laws: Half Weight
  • Presence of Distracted-Driving/Texting-While-Driving Laws: Full Weight
  • Presence of Red-Light & Speeding-Camera Laws: Half Weight
  • WalletHub “Strictest and Most Lenient States on DUI” Ranking: Full Weight

 

Source: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, TRIP, CarMD, InsuranceQuotes.com, the Governors Highway Safety Association and WalletHub research.

Author

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Richie Bernardo is a personal finance writer at WalletHub. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a minor in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Previously, he was a…
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Discussion

 
By: Shuhan
Jun 23, 2015
Hi, Missouri's GDL law includes 6 of the 7 optimal GDL provisions, may I please know why is Missouri ranked one of the worst states for teen drivers?
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Jan 15, 2015
Do you have 2013 statistics available so that we might compare improvement or decline by state on the GDL issue? I know that none of the states qualified for the GDL NHTSA funding this past year, so we're all interested in state's progress.
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Jun 23, 2014
I would like to know what analyses were done to compare the states' data, as well as if you compared just summer months or an entire year of driving statistics. Also how did you operationalize 'summer'? Each state has different weather for summer, which could be a confounding variable when looking at their best amd worst teen drivers, given the road conditions. Also as people have mentioned in the twitter feed, it would be good read more
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Jun 19, 2014
Hawaii's GDL laws includes 5 of the 7 optimal GDL provisions, and other laws incorporate the other two. Why wasn't it included in the best states for GDL?
 
By: WalletHub
Jun 30, 2014
According to Hawaii's DMV, teens can drive the car at night by themselves if they are going/returning from work or school. Also, learner’s permit can be obtained at 15 ½ and not at 16, while unrestricted driver’s license can be obtained at 17 and not at 18. Because of this we considered that Hawaii meets 4 out of 7 optimal GDL provisions.
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