FAQs about Teen Driver Safety

What is the goal of the Partners for Safe Teen Driving program? 
Partners for Safe Teen Driving aims to reduce the number of car crashes and save lives of teenagers driving on Virginia's roadways through education and awareness of risky driving behavior. The program also targets parents, educators, businesses, and law enforcement as key players in influencing teens to drive safely and responsibly.


How serious is the problem of risky teen driving behavior?
The following statistics underscore the severity and the consequences of unsafe teen driving:

  •  Car crashes are the leading cause of death among 16-19 year olds.
  • The economic impact of fatal and non-fatal car crashes involving teen drivers is more than $40.8 billion.

Why are crash rates so high for teens?
A number of factors contribute to high crash rates among teen drivers:

  • Teens lack the psychological and physiological maturity to safely manage risk and hazardous driving conditions.
  • Teens are taught to drive under optimal conditions and don't have experience with potentially hazardous situations.
  • Teens are at a life stage in which they believe they are invincible (the "it won't happen to me" mindset), and are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations.
  • Teens are attracted to risk and are less likely to take safety precautions, such as wearing seatbelts.

What are the leading causes of car crashes among teens?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the leading causes of car crashes involving teens include:

  • Driver inexperience
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • High-risk situations (e.g., inclement weather, night driving)
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Not wearing a safety belt
  • Distractions such as cell phones, music, and passengers

What are Virginia's policies for teen drivers?
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has several policies specific to teen drivers, including:
. 50 required hours of driver education (a combination of in-classroom and behind-the-wheel training).
. 45 required hours of adult-supervised driving.
. A curfew law for drivers under 18.
. Passenger restrictions for drivers under 18.
. Driver improvement clinics for drivers under 18 who commit a first-time demerit point violation. (A second demerit point conviction will suspend the teen's license for 90 days; a third conviction will suspend the teen's license for one year or until they are 18, whichever is longer.)
. Parents' ability to cancel a teens' license for six months without cause.
For more information about Virginia's rules for teen drivers, see the Virginia driving manual.

Are driver's education programs in high schools effective at improving driving behavior?
High school driver education programs can teach driving skills and raise awareness about the consequences of major risks, such as drinking and driving. However, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), high school driver education programs appear to have little affect on changing teen drivers' attitudes - and attitudes are strong indicators of how driving skills are actually employed. To effectively change attitudes and reduce risky behavior among teen drivers, education needs to be combined with parent and community involvement and ongoing behind-the-wheel supervision.

Which cars are safest for young drivers?
While parents may be inclined to choose a new vehicle for their teen driver, teens are actually safest in larger cars with low centers of gravity, small engines, and air bags. Mid- to full-size sedans or station wagons are good choices. Be sure to check the vehicle history before buying and keep the car tuned-up to ensure reliability.

How can parents, educators, and businesses help reduce teen-related car crashes and fatalities?
You can help keep teens safe on the road in two easy and important ways. First, talk to teens you know about the consequences of unsafe driving. Remind them to focus forward, buckle up, and slow down. Secondly, act as a role model for their driving behavior. Teens are looking to you, literally, for guidance on how to act while driving. When driving with a teen passenger, minimize distractions, don't talk on your cell phone, and keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

In addition, you can improve teen driver safety by:
. Limiting teen drivers' unsupervised exposure to risky situations, such as dangerous weather conditions and night driving.
. Restricting the number of passengers allowed in the car with the teen driver.
. Enforcing Virginia's curfew law (i.e., drivers under 18 cannot drive between midnight and 4 a.m.). According to IIHS, curfews are proven to reduce crashes among teen drivers.
. Understanding and supporting teen licensing laws.

Are young drivers over represented in the percentage of fatal crashes in the United States?
Yes. Drivers between 15- and 20-years-old accounted for 6.9 percent of the U.S. population in 1998, but 14 percent of all drivers in fatal vehicle crashes. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

What is Virginia's policy on underage drinking and driving?
Virginia has a zero tolerance law for those under age 21.  Those under 21 cannot purchase, possess, or consume alcohol. In addition, it is illegal for any person under the age of 21 to operate any motor vehicle after illegally consuming alcohol. For a teen convicted of driving after illegally consuming alcohol and found to have a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.02 and less than 0.08, the court penalty will include a suspension of your driving privilege for one year from the date of conviction, and a minimum mandatory fine of $500, or the requirement that the teen completes at least 50 hours of community service. (Virginia Driver's Manual)

Have the percentages of teenage drivers fatally injured in vehicle crashes because of drinking changed over time?
During the 1980s, the percentages of fatally injured drivers with high blood-alcohol counts (0.10 percent or more) declined among drivers of all ages. Reductions were greatest among young drivers, in part, because of changes in age laws for purchasing alcohol. In 1980, fewer than half of the states had alcohol-purchasing requirements for 21-year-olds, although 49 percent of all fatally injured drivers younger than 21 had high blood-alcohol counts. This percentage declined dramatically as states adopted older ages for purchasing alcohol, and by 1998 it had declined to 22 percent, the biggest improvement for any age group. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

Do teenagers require more sleep than adults?
Yes, teenagers need more sleep than younger children and adults. Many teenagers need at least 9 hours of sleep each night, but most of them get less than 6.5 hours of sleep each night. (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

What is the most effective step to take when becoming sleepy when driving?
The most effective step when becoming sleepy while driving is to stop driving. If there is no other choice, consume the equivalent of two cups of coffee, take a nap, or call for a lift. (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

What factors contribute to motor vehicle crashes involving young drivers?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most crashes involving young drivers result from inexperience, risk-taking behavior, high-risk situations, alcohol use, illegal drug use, and not wearing a safety belt. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Why is so much attention focused on young drivers?
A significant percentage of young drivers are involved in traffic crashes and they are twice as likely as adult drivers to be in a fatal crash. Sixteen-year-old drivers have crash rates that are three times those of 17-year-olds, five times those of 18-year-olds, and twice those of 85-year-olds. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

What is a juvenile licensing ceremony?
In Virginia, all persons under age 18 receiving their first driver's license must participate in a juvenile licensing ceremony. In this ceremony, teenage drivers and their parents or legal guardians appear before a judge to receive a permanent driver's license. (Virginia Driver's Manual)

CLICK HERE for safe teen driving tips from the  Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.