The Main Causes of Teen Driving Fatalities in Missouri

Teen drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 are involved in a disproportionately high number of fatal crashes in Missouri each year. While teen drivers make up only 6.4% of all licensed drivers in the state, they accounted for 10.7% of drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2020. Understanding the key factors that contribute to teen driving deaths can help guide efforts to improve safety through education, legislation, and other interventions. This article will examine some of the main causes of fatal crashes involving teen drivers in Missouri.

Inexperience and Risky Driving Behaviors

One of the biggest risk factors for teen drivers is simply inexperience behind the wheel. Teenagers who have only had their license for a short time lack the skills and practice needed to properly respond to hazards and safely operate a vehicle in different conditions. Studies show that the first few hundred hours of unsupervised driving are the riskiest. The underdeveloped areas of an adolescent’s brain governing judgment and impulse control also contribute to risky behaviors like speeding, distraction, and recklessness.

Some dangerous behaviors Missouri teen drivers engage in include:

  • Speeding – Excessive speed is a major factor in teen crashes. Teens may drive too fast while overestimating their driving abilities.
  • Distracted driving – Distractions like cell phones, passengers, and dashboard infotainment systems divert attention from driving and are common in teen crashes. Missouri bans cell phone use for novice drivers.
  • Drowsy driving – Teens require more sleep but often do not get enough, leading to fatigue that slows reaction times. Drowsy driving increases crash risk.
  • Reckless driving – Teens may drive aggressively and follow too closely while overestimating their abilities to control the vehicle.
  • Impaired driving – Despite being under the legal drinking age, teens may still drive impaired after consuming alcohol or drugs. Even some prescription medications can impair driving ability if misused.

Lack of Seat Belt Use

Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent serious injuries and fatalities in a crash. However, teen drivers and passengers have lower rates of seat belt use compared to other age groups. Nationwide, only 57% of high school students report always wearing a seat belt when riding with someone else. And many teen drivers (15-20 years old) involved in fatal crashes in Missouri were unrestrained. Proper seat belt use could prevent many of these deaths. Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement to ticket drivers and passengers solely for not wearing a seat belt. Missouri has a secondary enforcement seat belt law, meaning officers can only issue tickets if the vehicle is first stopped for another violation. Upgrading to a primary enforcement law could help improve teen seat belt use.

Nighttime and Weekend Driving Risks

Teen crash rates are higher during riskier times like weekends and nights:

  • Nearly 44% of teen driver deaths in the United States occur between 9 pm and 6 am, even though few teens drive during these overnight hours. Drowsy driving, impaired driving, and decreased visibility at night contribute to the increased fatal crash risk.
  • Over half of teen driving deaths occur on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Weekends tend to have more social driving with teen passengers and potential peer pressure or distractions in the vehicle.

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws that restrict nighttime driving and passenger limits can reduce exposure to these risky conditions during the initial supervised learning period. Missouri currently prohibits unsupervised driving between 1-5 am for drivers under 18. Expanding nighttime restrictions further could enhance safety.

Passengers in the Vehicle

Transporting teen passengers dramatically increases the fatal crash risk for teen drivers. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a 16 or 17-year-old’s risk of death per mile driven increases by 51% when carrying other teen passengers. Having friends in the car can lead to distraction and showboating behaviors. Missouri’s GDL provision allows only one unrelated passenger under 19 during the intermediate stage until the full license is gained. Strongly enforcing these passenger limits could protect both teen drivers and passengers from harm.

Lack of Experience Handling Emergencies

The combination of inexperience and risky behaviors means teen drivers are more likely to end up in emergency situations. However, their lack of experience also makes them less adept at properly responding to hazards and emergencies on the road compared to more seasoned drivers. With preemptive defensive driving education and graduated licensing requirements providing extensive supervised practice, new teen drivers can gain vital skills for avoiding and handling dangerous scenarios before being licensed to drive independently.

Improperly Sized Vehicles

Statistics show a high percentage of teens are driving medium and large vehicles not optimally sized for their frame and driving abilities. Large trucks, SUVs, and vans have a higher rollover risk and longer stopping distance, which demands more mature perceptual and motor skills to control properly. Teen drivers should gain experience in suitably sized vehicles before progressing to larger ones. A good fit allows proper visibility, access to controls, and handling. Parents can protect their teens by limiting access to improperly sized vehicles.

Actions to Reduce Teen Driving Deaths in Missouri

While multiple complex factors contribute to Missouri’s teen driver fatalities, proven solutions exist to address these risks through education, training, legislation, licensing requirements, and enforcement. Some key actions that can help reduce teen driving deaths in the state include:

  • Implementing comprehensive graduated driver licensing laws to phase in privileges and require extensive supervised practice.
  • Enhancing driver education programs, including expanded behind-the-wheel training.
  • Setting earlier nighttime driving restrictions and passenger limits.
  • Upgrading to primary enforcement of seat belt laws to improve usage.
  • Expanding license suspension and other penalties against unsafe behaviors.
  • Increasing enforcement of existing teen driving laws and restrictions.
  • Educating teens, parents, law enforcement, and the public about major risk factors.
  • Evaluating in-vehicle monitoring technologies to detect unsafe behaviors.

Through a combination of approaches, Missouri can work to provide the education, training, and experience teen drivers need to develop safe driving skills and behaviors. This will lead to fewer unnecessary tragedies from crashes involving young motorists.

Contact our experienced personal injury lawyers today if you have lost a loved one or suffered harm in a crash caused by a negligent teen driver. We have 32 offices located across 19 states, including Missouri, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. Our legal team can help protect your rights and recover the maximum compensation available in your case.

Call us today for a free consultation on (888) 477-0597.