A frightening trend that has hit our state especially hard
After nearly four decades of improvement, our roads became dramatically more dangerous for teenagers in 2020.
Driver's education resource Zutobi crunched the numbers and found that among young drivers (age 15-20) and their passengers, road fatalities increased by nearly 20 percent between 2019 and 2020. Prior to 2020, fatalities had dropped every year since 1982 — in other words, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic erased nearly 40 years of progress.
This is a national problem, but it's been particularly bad here in New Mexico, which ranked sixth in the nation with 40.86 fatalities per 100,000 licensed teen drivers. The only states with more teen fatalities per capita were Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas, Montana, and Mississippi. Louisiana, Arizona, Texas, and Florida round out the top 10.
These statistics are nothing short of a five-alarm fire for New Mexico teens and parents. Much more needs to be done to keep our roads safe, including accountability for careless drivers who cause serious and fatal car accidents.
The top causes of teenage driving fatalities
As you would expect, driver inexperience is a key factor in teenage driving fatalities. Teen drivers, by definition, have only been driving for a few years at most, and they lack the experience to drive defensively and anticipate hazards. They may also be more generally careless and take risks on the road, believing themselves to be invincible.
However, inexperience alone doesn't cause accidents; negligence does. The most common types of careless or negligent driving among teens are:
- Speeding: according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), teenage drivers and passengers have a much greater proportion of speeding-related crashes: 43%, compared to 30% across all other age groups. Speeding was a key cause of increased traffic fatalities in 2020 in general, thanks to the empty roads in the early days of the pandemic, so it makes sense that teenagers would be disproportionately affected.
- Drinking and driving: while drivers under 21 legally shouldn't be under the influence in the first place, as we all know, it does happen. Teenagers who drink alcohol need to make alternative transportation plans, and parents need to step up, put safety first, and make sure their kids know they can always ask for a ride.
- Distracted driving: cellphone use and texting while driving are incredibly dangerous, especially on New Mexico highways with high speed limits. Studies have also found that additional teen passengers in the car with a teenage driver can dramatically increase the risk of an accident, in part due to distraction.
What to do if your teenager is hurt in a car accident
As with any car accident, safety needs to be the first priority. Teenagers who are involved in car crashes may not know what to do, so if your kids are driving, make sure they're prepared and know they can call you at any time. The key steps after an accident include:
- Make sure the scene is safe
- Call 911 and wait for the police to arrive
- Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver(s) involved
- Take pictures of the scene (if it is safe to do so) and get names and contact information for witnesses
- Get medical attention right away, even if you feel fine
- Call an experienced car accident attorney
Again, an important part of making our roads safer for teens (and everyone else) is accountability. You may be able to pursue compensation from the driver who caused the accident. In addition, if the crash involved an underage drunk driver, you may have a "dram shop" claim against the bar, restaurant, or social host who served alcohol to an underage person.
An experienced New Mexico car accident attorney can investigate the accident and determine your legal rights and options. If you were injured by a teenage driver or your teenage child was injured in a crash, contact the Szantho Law Firm today for a free, confidential consultation.