It's a worrisome fact parents can't escape: Teen drivers are more accident-prone than anyone else on the road. Their inexperience, developing maturity and distractibility work against them.
Fortunately, you can improve your teens' odds of safely navigating their risky first years when you address these 10 common problem areas:
Distractions. Whether it's a pinging smartphone or a chatty passenger, young drivers don't yet have the skills to compensate for the distractions that their ultra-connected world brings.
Risk-taking. Teenagers may be wired to take more risks (like ignoring traffic signals) than their brothers and sisters who are in their early 20s. Studies show that in teenagers, the area of the brain associated with impulsiveness is twice as active as it is in young adults.
A need for speed. Teens drive an average of 1.3 miles per hour faster than other drivers. That doesn't sound like much, but for a driver who has little experience reacting to and anticipating highway emergencies, speed obliterates precious time needed to avoid a crash.
Too many passengers. Teen drivers with a carload of buddies are more likely to speed and follow other vehicles too closely, particularly if there's a male passenger in the front seat, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Interestingly, a female passenger in the front seat with a male driver has the opposite effect.
Driving drunk or high. Youth, inexperience and intoxication are an especially lethal combination.
Following too closely. Compared with older drivers, teens leave nearly two-tenths of a second less following distance behind the car in front of them, according to an NIH study. At 40 mph, that translates to 10 fewer feet of stopping distance.
Driving beltless. Although less of a problem in Washington and Oregon than other parts of the country, seatbelt use among teens tends to be lower than in other age groups.
Getting bullied by other drivers. Still unsure of their judgment, novice drivers can get rattled easily by impatient honks or even a line of cars behind them at an intersection. That can prompt them to panic and pull into traffic when they can't see if it's really clear.
Drowsy driving. Practice-weary athletes, students with afterschool jobs and straight-A overachievers are among those most likely to drive while drowsy.
Poor car choice. While "old and small" is a common first-car choice, teens' odds are better in larger, newer cars with moderate horsepower, electronic stability control and good safety ratings.