Teen next to wrecked car. (© Ariel Skelley/Image Bank/Getty Images)Click to enlarge picture

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group.

Ask any parent who has just added a kid to the family’s insurance policy and they’ll tell you how expensive it is to have a teen behind the wheel. But the overall cost of teen driving is as tragic as it is staggering. According to a recent report from AAA, car accidents involving drivers 15 to 17 cost society more than $34 billion in medical expenses, property damage and related costs in 2006.

This massive figure includes $9.8 billion related to fatal crashes, and double that amount ($20.5 billion), connected with non-fatal crashes, while property damage losses made up the remaining $4.1 billion. But there are, of course, more heartbreaking and incalculable losses behind with these numbers.

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Sobering Stats
According to an analysis conducted for AAA, in 2006 drivers ages 15 to 17 were involved in approximately 974,000 crashes that injured 406,427 people and killed 2,541. Here are more sobering statistics:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among U.S. teens, accounting for 36 percent of all deaths in the age group.
  • The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group, and per-miles-driven teens ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
  • Risk is highest at age 16, and the crash rate per miles driven is twice as high for 16 year olds as it is for 18 and 19 year olds, according to the IIHS.
  • IIHS statistics show that 16- and 17-year-old driver death rates increase with each additional passenger.
  • According to teensafety.com, 1 in 3 teenage drivers has an accident in the first year of receiving a license, and a teenager is injured in a car crash every 55 seconds and killed every 6.5 minutes.

More Soccer Instruction
According to carcontrol.com, the average 16-year-old soccer player has had 1,500 hours of coached practice, while only 50 hours of driving experience as required in Ohio for a driver’s license. That didn’t surprise Becky Ackford, media and communications coordinator with The Mid-Ohio School in Lexington, Ohio, which offers a Honda Teen Defensive Driving Program.  “It’s just another example of how essential teen-driver training is,” she says. “As a kid, we had soccer practice three days a week. But many of the kids in Ohio cheat on those 50 hours of training by getting their parents to sign off without checking that they’ve completed them.”

Message board: Is more instruction the key to helping young drivers?

The Mid-Ohio School’s program, now in its fifteenth year, teaches teens accident-avoidance skills by practicing emergency driving situations in a safe, controlled environment. Teens study the dynamics of driving in the classroom and then apply the knowledge through hands-on driving in Civic EX Coupes. They learn wet braking techniques, emergency lane-change maneuvers and go through a skid drill that simulates driving in ice, snow and rain.  The one-day program costs $350 per student, with various discounts available, and it runs through mid November of 2008. “We get kids from as far away as Alaska,” adds Ackford.

Driver Training Tours
You don’t have to ship your kids off to Ohio to improve their skills behind the wheel.  Tire Rack’s Street Survival program takes place this year in 50 cities through November 15. It costs $60 and is open to permitted and licensed drivers age 16 to 21. It teaches teens how to become more aware of traffic situations and to look far enough ahead to anticipate the actions of other drivers. As students maneuver their own cars through a course laid out with orange traffic cones in closed parking lots, they learn how a car feels and sounds as it reaches the limits of tire adhesion in a controlled situation. Participants repeat the exercise several times to learn from their mistakes and to improve their skills, and a trained driving coach accompanies each driver to provide feedback.

Another touring school, Driver’s Edge, was founded by former race driver Jeff Payne in 2000 as a non-profit organization, and the fee-free program runs through October 19.  The half-day Driver’s Edge course is taught with what Payne calls an “MTV flavor” in new 3-Series BMWs and VW GTIs supplied by the program’s sponsor, Bridgestone Tires. The course blends classroom and behind-the-wheel experiences that focus on “real-life” emergency avoidance, response techniques and driver safety. Participants also receive instruction in skid control, evasive lane-changing, anti-lock and panic-braking techniques and other skills. Traffic safety experts are on hand to interact with kids and parents are strongly encouraged to attend.