Five Fatal Mistakes of Young Drivers


Young drivers between the ages 15 and 20 are over represented as a group in crash statistics. Young drivers are a at a high risk for crash involvement due to minimal driving experience, over confidence in their driving ability and the likelihood of risk taking behavior.


Fatal Mistake #1: Distracted Driving


"Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or in-attentive driver, and more  than half a million were injured." - NHTSA 



How Distraction Effects Your Brain

There are different kinds of distractions:

 1. Visual Distractions take your eyes off the road

-Looking at your keypad to type or text instead of looking at the road

2. Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel

-Holding a phone to talk or text

3. Cognitive distractions take your mind off the road

-Holding a conversation, either a texting or talking, while driving

                               Some activities involve all three.


The Myth of Multi-Tasking

The human brain cannot perform two tasks at the same time. The brain does tasks sequentially, switching back and forth. Information in the task not being focused on "falls out of view" both within the mind and the field of vision. The brain needs to re-allocate its resources:

  • Studies have shown that listening to a conversation on a cell phone decreased brain activity by 37% in theparietal lobe—the part of the brain associated with driving.
  • The same study also shows a decrease in activity in the occipital lobe—the part of the brain associated with vision.

This picture shows brain activity driving without distraction (top picture and the increase in brain activity in the areas associated with talking (on the right and left) and a decrease in activity in the area of the brain associated with driving (middle). (source:Carnegie Mellon University)

Cell Phones

  • 25% of all motor vehicle crashes involve cell phone use—Approx. 1.4 million crashes in 2008.
  • Cell phone use has been shown to slow braking reaction time by up to 18% and increased following distance by 12%.
  • Talking on a cell phone increases crash risk by up to 4 times.
  • Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.
  • Simply talking on a cell phone can cause cognitive distraction— there has been no safety benefit found associated with the use of hands free vs. hand held phones.


  • 50% of teens admit to texting while driving
  • Texting increases crash risk by 8 times up to 23 times.


Both on the road and driver simulator studies have found that:

  • Texting drivers could not keep the car in the proper lane while texting.
  • Steering control by "texters" was 91% poorer.
  • Texting drivers had great difficulty maintaining a safe driving distance.
  • Reaction time for someone texting or reading a text was as delayed and in some cases more delayed than a driver impaired at the legal B.A.C. limit .08 --- equivalent to as high as a BAC of .16.


Other Distractions

Cell phones are not the only thing that can distract a driver. Possible distractions can be anything including:

  • Picking songs off your IPod or tuning the radio
  • Eating, drinking or smoking
  • Reading
  • Reaching for objects somewhere else in the vehicle
  • Arguing with another passenger
  • Fixing your hair
  • Applying makeup
  • Putting in contact lenses
  • Clipping or polishing nails


(Sources: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Naturalistic Driving Study and NHTSA)


Fatal Mistake #2: Not Using A Safety Belt

Safety belts protect occupants in 5 ways:

  1. Prevent ejection
  2. Contacts the strongest parts of the body
  3. Spreads the crash forces over a broad area of the body
  4. Provides a "ride down" benefit
  5. Protects the head, neck and spine

1. Preventing ejection from the vehicle.

  • People who are thrown from the vehicle are four times more likely to be killed than those who remain inside. Seat Belts provide the greatest protection against occupant ejection.

2. Contacting the strongest parts of the body.

  • Seat Belts are designed so that the forces in a crash are absorbed by the strongest areas of your  body – the bones of your hips and shoulder.

3. Spreading the crash forces across the body.

  • A snug lap and shoulder belt spreads the force across a large area putting less stress on any one part of the body.

4. Providing "ride down" in a crash.

  • Ride down refers to extending the time during a crash that the occupant experiences the slowing down forces.

5. Protecting the head, neck and spine in a crash.

  • A shoulder belt helps to keep the head and upper body away from the hard surfaces inside the vehicle. Seat belts prevent you and other occupants from being thrown into the vehicle, each other, or ejected from the vehicle.



  • Wear the lap and shoulder belt adjusted so it is low and snug across the hips and the shoulder belt is positioned across the center of the chest and shoulder.
  • Sit at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel.
  • Sit upright and sit back in the seat.
  • Make sure all passengers are buckled.


Fatal Mistake # 3: Speeding

Adjust Driving Speed based on weather conditions


Fatal Mistake #4: Failure to negotiate a curve

                The proper judgment associated with navigating roadways comes only with experience behind the wheel. Teens do not have this experience and therefore are more at risk to take curves in roads at inappropriate speeds.

Fatal Mistake # 5: DUI

Approximately 1,900 people under 21 die every year from car crashes involving underage drinking.



Poor driving behavior puts the driver, passengers, and other vehicles at risk for a crash - all drivers must obey traffic laws.

  • When there are multiple passengers with young drivers, the crash risk is 3 to 5 times greater than driving alone
    • Aggressive driving behavior includes tailgating, speeding, weaving. Drivers can be fined and issued points on their license for traffic violations.
  • An aggressive driver operates a vehicle in a selfish, bold, or pushy manner without regard for the rights or safety of other users of streets and highways.


Call 911 if you suspect another driver is drunk or is driving aggressively putting others at risk.