The best and worst states for teen drivers

Traffic law, Family/Kids, News

Motor vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death for 16- to 19-year-olds in the United States, with an average of 226 auto-related teen deaths occurring every month. The summer months are particularly deadly, with Memorial Day marking the start of the “100 deadliest days for teens on the road,” according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).

And even when the result isn’t fatal, teen driving mishaps still pose an enormous medical problem—nearly a quarter of a million American teens landed in the emergency room due to an automobile accident in 2014—and prompt countless personal injury lawsuits.

As grim as this picture looks, the situation varies across the nation. Fact is, some states are worse than others when it comes to teen-driving tragedies. Is yours among them?

New York is the best; Montana is the worst

WalletHub, a personal finance website, just released its report on 2017’s Best and Worst States for Teen Drivers. Using 21 key metrics involving safety, economic environment, and driving laws, WalletHub analyzed the teen driving environment in each state.

Experience and sound decision-making count

Safety experts cite inexperience as a chief culprit in teen driving crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety observes that “young drivers tend to overestimate their driving abilities and underestimate the dangers on the road.”

Their lack of experience, coupled with an adolescent faith in their own invincibility, leads teens to make poor choices. A 2016 study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) revealed that teens—by their own admission—make bad decisions when behind the wheel:

  • 68 percent of teens admit to using apps while driving.
  • 64 percent of teens say music apps are distracting, but 46 percent still admit to using them while driving.
  • 41 percent think using navigation apps while driving is dangerous, yet 58 percent use them.
  • 1 in 10 teens have fallen asleep at the wheel while driving.

While young drivers should be discouraged from using apps while driving, parents can benefit by using safe driving apps to help protect their teens.

What makes some states better than others

Recognizing the importance of experience, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have instituted the Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) system, which consists of three experience-based stages: (1) a learner stage, which entails supervised driving, (2) an intermediate stage, which imposes restrictions on unsupervised driving, and (3) an unrestricted stage, at which point the teen can drive unsupervised.

These three stages can include up to seven provisions: (1) minimum age 16 for learner’s permit, (2) 6-month holding period, (3) 30-50 hours of supervised driving, (4) nighttime driving restriction, (5) passenger limit, (6) cell phone restriction, (7) age 18 for unrestricted license.

It’s up to each state to enact the number of provisions it desires. Only six states impose six of the seven GDL provisions: Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Eight states have enacted two or fewer: Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wyoming.

The tables below show a correlation between teen-driving fatalities and the number of GDL provisions:

The risks facing teen drivers are many. Fortunately, however, you don’t have to move to a new state to keep your child safe. Adequate driver’s education, ongoing discussions about making good choices, and parental safety apps can help you overcome your state’s weaknesses.