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How Can We Prevent Teen Driver Deaths?

More can be done.

The United States, despite all of its resources, does not do nearly as much as many other countries to adequately train new drivers to prevent roadway crashes. Germany, for example, requires roughly ten times the training for new drivers as the U.S., and the training is expensive.

I argue that driving is a privilege that must be earned, rather than a basic human right. Irresponsible behavior behind the wheel of a three-thousand-pound car is every bit as dangerous as firing a loaded gun. The number one cause of death for teens is roadway crashes.

Treating victims of roadway crashes has been the focus of my clinical psychology practice for the past two decades, and every day, I see the devastation caused by motor vehicle crashes. In 90 percent of the cases, the crash was due to someone's irresponsible behavior. As I discuss in my book on car crash recovery, distracted and fatigued driving, recklessness, substance misuse, mental distress, discourteousness, and poor training are all factors that can, in a blink of an eye, forever change the life trajectory of individuals and their families. Few can appreciate the level of suffering unless they have directly experienced the effects of a serious roadway crash or know someone who has.

One tragic example is the motor vehicle collision that killed the sons of top fuel dragster Doug Herbert. Both of his teen sons died in a highway crash due to one son's reckless driving. To his credit, Herbert used the horrible tragedy to help prevent other teens from needlessly dying due to inadequate driver education by creating B.R.A.K.E.S, behind-the-wheel training for teen drivers to prepare them for roadway situations that could result in serious or even fatal injuries.

Training programs for teens often impart an understanding of how anti-lock brakes and steering systems work, which can lower the risk of hitting a pedestrian. Students may also learn such things as how to safely bring a car out of a skid and back under control, and how to stay safe in the dead zones of semi-trucks.

Considering that every 15 minutes a teen driver tragically dies on a roadway in the U.S., I believe there is an urgent need for more driver’s education that is free or sponsored by insurance companies and auto manufacturing companies. Presently, only some states provide insurance discounts to teen drivers who have taken a driver training program. Why not all 50 states? Why not a national program to better equip new drivers? We could save countless lives. Evidence strongly indicates that driver’s education reduces the risk of teen driver's accidents.

When it comes to driver's training, I believe it is not only teens who need additional education. Perhaps we need to follow the example of continuing education in the health care fields and apply the same requirements to driving. Each licensing cycle, health care professionals are required to obtain what are referred to as continuing education credits, or "CEUs." If, as a society, we could shift to seeing the responsibility of driving as something that requires continuing education and preparation, I could see a system put in place that would lower car insurance premiums or give tax credits given for drivers who engage in updated driver's education programs.

There may also be a need to recertify drivers who have red flags in their driving or health records. I strongly believe drivers who have been in serious accidents who have sustained brain injuries and/or post-traumatic stress disorders should be given the benefit of driver's rehabilitation evaluations and services to ensure their ability to drive safely.

The crash risk of driving in modern America is constant and we are in dire need of increased prevention measures. Drivers need increased education, training, and support to greatly reduce the risk of serious roadway incidents. This is true for not only new drivers but all drivers.


Suggested Reading and Resources


James F. Zender, PhD (2020). Recovering from Your Car Accident: The Complete Guide to Reclaiming Your Life. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

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