Tech and Teen Drivers

September 20, 2021 by

As an insurance journalist and a parent with a 16-year-old son, soon to be on the roads, I know all too well the dangers that lie ahead when it comes to driving behavior. So much so I’m often advocating that he hold-off getting his driver’s license until his 20th birthday. But what 16-year-old young man wants to do that? But modern, tech-enabled vehicles give me hope for a safer teen driving experience.

According to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows, crash avoidance features and teen-specific vehicle technologies have the potential to prevent or mitigate up to three-quarters of fatal crashes involving teen drivers.

That sounds pretty good to me considering that per mile driven, teen drivers are nearly four times as likely to crash as drivers 20 years old and older. Teen drivers are also more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than any age group except those 80 and above. That’s because of a unique set of risk factors that includes high rates of speeding, low seat belt use and inexperience.

Past IIHS research has shown that teen drivers are typically worse at recognizing hazards and controlling the vehicle than more experienced drivers, resulting in more loss-of-control and run-off-road crashes. Teen drivers are more prone to losing focus and less likely to lower their speed to compensate for slick roads or poor visibility. They are also often involved in rear-end and right-angle crashes.

All that means that the safety benefits of crash avoidance technologies like front crash prevention and lane departure prevention could be particularly relevant for teen drivers, even though these features are designed for everybody.

“We know these technologies don’t stop 100% of the crashes they’re designed to address, but our analysis shows that the potential benefits for teen drivers could be pretty stunning if they were widely used,” says IIHS Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller, the lead author of the recent study.

Automakers and software developers also offer technologies that are specifically designed for teen drivers. In-vehicle technology suites like Ford’s MyKey and GM’s Teen Driver include features like parent-controlled speed limiters and gearshift or stereo system interlocks that activate when the front seat occupants aren’t buckled in. Smartphone apps like Hyundai’s BlueLink and Grom Social’s MamaBear can provide parents with driving report cards or real-time alerts when their teen is speeding or breaking nighttime driving curfews.

Assuming those technologies were universally used and completely effective, the researchers concluded that together they could prevent or mitigate 41% of all crashes involving teen drivers and as many as 47% of teen driver injuries and 78% teen driver deaths.

That’s a relief to this mom/insurance editor of a soon to be teen driver.