It’s that time of year again: the trees are about to turn colors as Upper Marlboro students return to Prince George’s County high schools. Many of the older kids arrive for school days in cars purchased by their parents, themselves and sometimes a combination of the two. Few of the vehicles driven by teens are 2021 models outfitted with the latest safety tech.
A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says “crash avoidance features and teen-specific vehicle technologies” could prevent or mitigate up to 75 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes involving teenage drivers.
“We know these technologies don’t stop 100 percent 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,” said IIHS research scientist Alexandra Mueller, lead author of the study.
Grim stats and dangerous behaviors
Drivers ages 16-19 are nearly 4 times as likely to crash as drivers who are 20 and older, and they’re more likely to be in a fatal wreck than any age group but one: those who are 80 and above.
Why are teen drivers such a danger to themselves and those who share the road with them? Research shows that teens are typically slower to recognize road and traffic hazards and that because of their inexperience, they’re more likely to lose control of their vehicles when they encounter hazards. They’re also less likely to respond safely to wet roads or poor visibility. Teens “are also often involved in rear-end and right-angle crashes,” says the IIHS.
Relevant vehicle safety tech
All of those significant driving issues are addressed by crash avoidance technologies such as front-crash prevention (which can include automatic emergency braking), lane-departure prevention and blind spot warnings.
In fact, researchers analyzed U.S. crash data involving teen drivers in 2016-19, focused on crashes relevant to those three safety technologies, as well as for three other safety systems designed for teen drivers: speeding prevention, curfew notifications and a gearshift interlock that prevents the vehicle from being shifted out of Park until the driver uses their seatbelt.
Substantial safety effects
The IIHS researchers concluded that if all those technologies were universally used and effective, “they could prevent or mitigate 41 percent of all crashes involving teen drivers.” The tech would also prevent or lessen the severity of teenage driver injuries and prevent 78 percent of teen driver fatalities.
Researchers made it clear that their analysis was of a best-case scenario in which all the technologies were in all teen-driven vehicles and that all the safety systems performed as intended each time.
They also noted that past research found that lane-departure warning systems reduced the types of car accidents they’re designed to prevent by 11 percent, while blind-spot monitoring reduced its crash-type by 14 percent and automatic emergency braking cut its crash-type in half.
While the research is interesting, those who suffer injuries in a crash caused by a negligent driver are focused less on studies and more on their physical and financial recovery.