Special Report: The Dangers of Teen Driving

Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens. It's time to take action.

By Joseph K. Vetter with Fran Lostys from Reader's Digest | August 2008

• Kylie Grayden, 17, of Shorewood, Minnesota, glanced at her iPod while driving with her cousin and a friend, both 17. When she veered off the road and flipped her car into a ditch, she and her friend were killed.

• Heading home from practice, Jonathan Chapman, a 16-year-old high school basketball player from La Plata, Maryland, was reportedly speeding when his car rammed an SUV. He and three friends, ages 14 to 16, were killed.

• Five days after graduating from high school, Bailey Goodman, 17, of Fairport, New York, and four classmates were on their way to her family’s cottage. Moments after text messages were exchanged on Bailey’s cell phone, she slammed into an oncoming truck. All five teens were killed. 

Teen Driving RisksPHOTOGRAPHED BY KEVIN IRBYMore than 5,000 teenagers die in car accidents every year.
 More than 5,000 teenagers die in car accidents every year. “If we saw these numbers coming back from a war zone, it would be on the front page every day,” says Vincent Leibell, a state senator from New York, where some 200 teens died in crashes in 2006.

The numbers aren’t budging. Fatalities did drop from the mid-’70s through the early ’90s, mainly because of tougher seat belt and drunk driving laws. But since then, the statistics have remained stubbornly high, despite improved safety features in cars.

Some of this is due to teens themselves. “Anytime you have immaturity combined with inexperience, you have the potential for disaster,” says Nicole Nason, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “And that’s what you get with a 16-year-old behind the wheel.”

But that’s not the whole story. Speed, distraction, and driver inexperience cause most crashes-and those things can be controlled. “These deaths should not be considered an inevitable part of the teen experience,” says Justin McNaull, director of state relations for AAA. “We can change this.” Here are three steps that will prevent crashes and save countless lives — of teens and others on the road.