By Caroline Leopold
“We see car accidents literally every shift,” says Kaynen Brown, an emergency room nurse based in Las Vegas. “There’s definitely a lot of teens involved, especially over the summer.”
Brown is well acquainted with the ugly side of summer. The creator of ER Forum has a Youtube channel where he posts videos advising nursing students. Dealing with accidents, Brown says, is a major part of his job.
Some of these accidents involve drunk driving, but Brown suspects many result from texting while driving. As a young nurse, Brown says teen victims get to him.
“When I see someone who’s hurting or dying and looks about my age, it hits me more because I can relate to that person more easily,” Brown says. “What caused them to end up here? Because I want to do the exact opposite.”
The Prevalence of Teen Accidents
Teen accidents are more likely to happen during the summer than any other time of the year. In fact, a study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found teen drivers were 14% more likely to be involved in fatal accidents between Memorial Day and Labor Day -- what they call the “100 Deadliest Days.”
Young drivers are already three times more likely to get into a crash than a driver over the age of 20, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Summer compounds the problem because teens spend more time on the road, have less supervision, and are often permitted to stay out later.
In the coming summer season, advise teen drivers to sharpen their driving skills and to avoid these common pitfalls to eliminate teen accidents:
Speeding: Excited teens means heavier pressure on the gas pedal. Roughly one-third of fatal teen crashes involve speeding, the NHTSA reports. Teens may be more likely to speed as they gain experience and confidence.
Passengers: Summer’s great for hanging out with friends. But in the car? Not so much. Teen drivers’ risk of getting into an accident grows with each additional passenger that’s in the vehicle, the NHTSA explains. Teens are more easily distracted than adults and more likely to engage in dangerous driving habits while in the company of other teens.
Distraction: Distracted driving involves more than just cell phones. Talking to passengers, singing to music, or simply noticing what’s happening on the sidewalk can take drivers’ focus off the road. Around 60% of teen crashes are caused by some form of distraction, AAA states.
Nighttime driving: Without school, you’re able to stay out later. Unfortunately, most fatal crashes involving teens occur between 9pm and midnight.
Extreme heat: High temperatures and dehydration can make drivers sleepy, which is a major problem when behind the wheel. Teen drivers are responsible for as much as 10% of lethal drowsy driving accidents.
Intoxication: Like drowsiness, consuming alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs can seriously impair anyone’s ability to operate a vehicle. This is particularly true for teens. A young driver with a blood alcohol level of just 0.08% (the legal limit in every state but Utah) is 17 times more likely to crash, according to the CDC. Despite the fact that alcohol and marijuana are legally off limits for teens, one in 10 admits to driving drunk.
A Message to Teen Drivers: It’s Not Only about You
According to the AAA, teen drivers are twice as likely to injure or fatally injure someone else in teen accidents, which can include the other driver, a pedestrian or cyclist, or a passenger.
Oftentimes drivers of vehicles that are hit pay a bigger price.
“I see a lot of [accident] victims,” Brown says. “Those cases tend to be a lot more hard-hitting.”
Brown believes the message on drunk and distracted driving are too focused on the individual driver and don’t give enough attention to the people who are injured.
“Growing up, we hear ‘don’t drink and drive’ and ‘don’t text and drive’ because it’s going to affect your future,” he says. “What I don’t see is people advocating for the other people affected by the crash.”
Victims, if they survive, can sustain life-altering injuries. One driver's split-second decision to check their phone could leave an innocent driver with life-long chronic back pain after an accident.
“You’re not only affecting your life,” Brown says. “If you hit someone, you can change their life forever. I think that’s the message kids need to hear.”
Adults and teen drivers can visit I Drive Safely's Defensive Driving Techniques section to study up on practical tips to avoid teen accidents.