How Driving to School Can Turn Deadly
Just How Dangerous Is It for Teens to Drive Themselves to School?
As a teenager, one of the major perks of earning your driver's license is finally being able to get off the school bus for good and drive yourself to school. Many teens consider driving to school an expected rite of passage. However, parents of new drivers may want to consider a few key risk factors before their children bid farewell to that big, yellow bus.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, where roughly six teens ages 16-19 die each day from motor vehicle injuries. Driving to and from school is among the first times teenagers become responsible for a significant part of their everyday lives. But are they ready for a task with so many inherent risks so early in their driving career?
Which factors impact teens on the drive to school?
We've identified multiple risk factors that come into play on a typical drive to school and can increase teens' already high chances of getting into a car accident. Read on as we explore why these factors make the drive to school such a perilous place for teenagers to test out their solo driving skills.
1. Driving with other teen passengers
Carpooling with friends may seem like a good idea, but doing so is by far the riskiest way for teens to get to school. Not only do teens driving other teens account for 55% of school travel-related deaths and 51% of injuries, but also, in many states it's against the law for a new teen driver to carry multiple teen passengers.
Recent studies show that compared with having no passengers, having one passenger younger than age 21 (and no older passengers) was associated with a 44% increase in a 16- or 17-year-old driver's risk per mile driven of being killed in a crash. Having two passengers younger than 21 doubled the teen driver's risk of a fatal crash, and having three or more passengers younger than 21 quadrupled the driver's fatal crash risk. These startling statistics are why many states have a graduated driver's licensing system that limits the number of passengers in your vehicle during your first months of independent driving.
Parents and teens alike should know the restrictions that accompany a junior driver's license. Visit our PA Driver Licensing Law section to learn about Pennsylvania's graduated licensing program. Teens can also consult our guide on How To Be the Best Passenger.
2. Running late in the morning
If you've ever tried to wake up a teenager, you're familiar with how they may cut it close when it comes to leaving adequate time for the drive to school. As is the case for adults and teens alike, when drivers are in a hurry, they can resort to risky driving practices. Unfortunately, young people's inexperience behind the wheel can easily cause dicey driving decisions to have disastrous effects.
Aggressive driving occurs when a motorist commits multiple traffic offenses all together, like following too closely, speeding, unsafe lane changes, or failing to signal intent to change lanes. No one plans to drive aggressively, but this type of unsafe driving is often triggered by traffic congestion or unrealistic time constraints.
Two factors put teens at serious risk of driving aggressively:
- Aggressive driving is most likely to occur during morning and afternoon rush hour, which falls during the times high school students would typically be traveling to and from school
- Males under the age of 19 are the most likely to exhibit aggressive driving tendencies and road rage
Speeding to make it to school on time is even more dangerous for young drivers and can cause them to have their license suspended.
According to PA law:
- Drivers under 18 will be suspended if they accumulate six or more points or are convicted of driving 26 mph or more over the posted speed limit. The first suspension will be for a period of 90 days. Any subsequent occurrences will result in 120 days of suspension.
3. Underestimating the threat of environmental factors
A third potential hazard for teens on their way to school may be their tendency to underestimate the threat of environmental factors like rain or snow. Much of this can be attributed to new drivers' unfamiliarity combatting road risks without a more experienced driver present to provide guidance.
When a new driver is suddenly left responsible to clean off their own car on a wintry morning, but may have neither the time, nor the tools, available to remove snow and ice, peephole driving can occur.
"Peephole drivers" are those who only scrape just enough ice and snow from their windshields to allow them to see only what lies directly ahead of them on the road. Teen drivers unfamiliar with driving in the snow may not be aware that this reckless action can pose a significant threat to themselves and other motorists. And, in many states, like Pennsylvania, peephole drivers can be pulled over by law enforcement.
- In PA, it is a summary traffic violation to drive with any ice or snow "which materially obstructs, obscures or impairs the driver's clear view of the road or intersecting highway." This applies to the front, back and side windows. This means that only removing snow from the front windshield is not sufficient enough for safe winter driving, and may result in fines of up to $110.
The school bus might not seem cool, but it is safe
Driving to school is an important milestone in a teenager's life, however the evidence overwhelmingly points to this method as also being significantly more dangerous than other methods of transportation—particularly the school bus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), of all the vehicles that travel on our nation's roadways, none are safer than the school bus.
If you live in an urban area, the public transportation system, whether it be a light-rail system or bus system, can also be a safe alternative to teens driving themselves to school. If you live in an area without reliable forms of public transportation and teens driving themselves is the easiest option, make sure to relay the dangers and consequences of unsafe driving.
Parents hold the keys to safe driving, literally
Although having teens drive themselves to school is the least safe option, if parents put strong restrictions in place, teens can enjoy more freedom while also honing safe driving skills which can last into adulthood. Ultimately, parents should be open to having teens who abuse driving privileges spend some thoughtful morning hours back on the school bus. This may make them better and safer drivers in the future and may even save their lives.
We encourage all parents to look over our Tips for Parents of Teenage Drivers or visit our Teen Driving Section for more helpful ways to help teens practice safe driving techniques.
“Safety on The Way To School.” Healthychildren.org. January 20, 2016.