The Most Likely Cause of Teen Fatalities Behind the Wheel

As parents, we often spend time worrying about our teenagers being involved in car crashes because of speeding, distracted driving, or DUI. But it turns out that teenaged drivers are most at risk of dying from drowsy driving.

Why is this so? Some of it has to do with teen physiology and the general need for more sleep than adults; the fact that teens truly need to sleep later, and that their early school start times fight this fact; and a generally busy life that can include jobs and extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs, not leaving a big enough window for teen sleep.

Teen Driving Statistics

Some important facts you might not know:

  • Teen drivers are one-third more likely to crash if they sleep less than 8 hours a night.
  • The amount that teens sleep each day tends to be reduced by almost an hour from the ages of 13 to 19.
  • This reduction in sleep occurs at a time when teens need at least 9 hours of sleep a night to eliminate the chances of drowsy driving.
  • Drivers under 25 cause the majority of drowsy-driving crashes.

In recognition of these facts, some states restrict teen driving via graduated drivers’ licenses (GDL). When holding a GDL, a teen cannot drive without adult supervision between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Also, groups like Start School Later, Inc., are working toward obtaining a later school start time for teens. Studies have proven that teens truly need to sleep later in the morning to be well-rested because they have physical difficulties with falling asleep at earlier hours.

What Are You Telling Me For?! I’m Careful!

What can you do to help your teen? You need to talk to them. However, the reaction above might be what you hear when you try to inform them about drowsy driving. Stress to them that drivers aged 16 to 24 are 80 percent more likely to be in a drowsy-driving crash than if they were 40 or older. Not only that, drowsy driving crashes are often fatal and frequently occur between midnight and 6 a.m.

Kara Macek, the director of communications with the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, reported that it’s difficult to be certain just how large the problem of drowsy driving is. “It’s really an underreported and underappreciated challenge when it comes to highway safety.”

Fortunately, we can prevent a number of drowsy driving crashes.

Talk to your Teen

Emphasize to your teenager that drowsy driving results in 6,400 fatalities every year in the U.S. across the age spectrum, and that everyone, including adults, overestimates their alertness when they feel sleepy. But, most importantly, your teen needs to realize that tricks such as rolling down the windows or playing music loudly never work for more than a very few minutes. Teens (and adults, for that matter) should never trust in their ability to stay awake.

Common signs of drowsiness include yawning, drifting into other lanes or off the road, nodding off in microsleeps, not being able to recall the last few miles driven, missing an exit or a turn, and the inability to keep your eyes open.

The best things for a sleepy teen to do?

  • Don’t start out sleepy. Take a nap if you know you will be driving late at night.
  • If sleepiness overtakes you, pull over someplace safe to nap; then walk around to wake up before driving again.
  • Switch drivers, if that’s possible.
  • You can try caffeine, but you need to wait at least 30 minutes for it to work.
  • Don’t drive at all! Call your parents for help.

Teens in the Driver Seat

Both Columbia and Richland County high schools have a safety program coming to the area called “Teens in the Driver Seat.” This program focuses on the main dangers for teen drivers. Renee McCabe, a spokesperson for Safe Kids, the organization bringing the program to our area, commented, “Being awake for 18 hours is equivalent to potentially being a drunk driver. They’re impaired, their timing is off, their reaction time is off.”

The program is peer-driven and makes heavy use of social media. Look for it at your high school soon.

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The Louthian Law Firm has represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. With our firm on the case, you can rest assured that you’ll receive the personalized attention you deserve. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a vehicular accident, or other accident where another person is responsible, it’s important to make sure that you understand your legal rights. Personal injury cases require a thorough investigation by an experienced legal team to determine which individuals and companies should be named as defendants and which legal theories should be pursued. South Carolina law can be complex, and there is a deadline for filing a claim. As the initial consultation is always free, reach out to us at the Louthian Law Firm by calling today at 1-803-454-1200, or by filling out our online contact form.