The Teen Driver Tragedy: Addressing the Alarming Rate of Fatal Accidents Among Young Motorists in Kansas

The transition from high school to adulthood is filled with many milestones – getting a first job, going to college, and gaining more independence. One of the most iconic milestones is getting a driver’s license. For teenagers, that plastic card represents freedom, responsibility, and a sense of maturity. However, it also comes with great risk, especially for young and inexperienced drivers.

The Alarming Statistics

While teen drivers make up a relatively small percentage of total drivers on the road, they are vastly overrepresented in accidents, injuries, and fatalities:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people from 15 to 18 years old.
  • Teen drivers account for 6.7% of all Kansas registered drivers but 20.1% of all crashes.
  • 13% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were teen drivers.
  • Most teen crashes occur between 3 and 4 pm.
  • 85% of all teen fatalities were not wearing seatbelts.

These alarming statistics demonstrate that teen drivers are at a significantly higher risk of being involved in a serious or deadly crash compared to other age groups. Additional driver education and training, as well as increased safety measures, are greatly needed to help protect newly licensed teenage drivers.

Why Teen Drivers Are at Higher Risk

There are several key factors that contribute to the increased rate of fatal accidents among teen drivers:

Lack of Experience

Simply put, teens have not been behind the wheel long enough to react appropriately to unexpected situations on the road. Hazard perception, visual scanning, and other driving skills improve over time with more practice. Most deadly crashes involving teen drivers are caused by simple mistakes – like speeding, distraction, or improper turns – rather than impairment, weather, or road conditions. Gaining driving experience through supervised practice and gradually easing into full licensure helps improve safety.

Risky Behavior

Teenagers are more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors like speeding, tailgating, rapid acceleration, and not wearing seatbelts. Peer pressure can exacerbate this risky behavior, like when multiple teen passengers are in the car. Teens are also more likely than other age groups to drive under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. More driver education about dangerous habits and their potential consequences is needed.


Driver distraction is a universal problem, but it takes on added risk with teenage drivers. Teens are extremely susceptible to distractions from cell phones, radios, peer passengers, and more. Limiting passengers and reducing cell phone use are key ways to cut down on distractions. Kansas has enacted a restricted license for new teen drivers that prohibits non-family passengers and phone use in an effort to reduce distraction-related crashes.

Nighttime and Weekend Driving

While most teen crashes occur between 3 and 4 pm, most fatal crashes with teen drivers occur at night between 6 pm and 6 am or on weekends. These are high-risk times when more impaired drivers may be on the road, and teens may be more careless. Graduated licensing addresses this by restricting new teen drivers from driving during the most dangerous nighttime hours. Parental monitoring of driving times is also beneficial.

Graduated Licensing Laws in Kansas

To help address the risks faced by teen drivers, Kansas uses a Graduated Driver’s Licensing (GDL) system. Kansas’s GDL law went into effect in 2010 and includes three stages:

Instruction Permit – Age 14

  • Must hold for at least 1 year
  • Requires completion of approved driver’s education course
  • Must be supervised at all times by an adult 21 or older

Restricted License – Ages 15-16

  • Can only drive alone between 5 am and 9 pm except for school, work, or religious activities
  • For the first 6 months, cannot have non-family minor passengers
  • Primary seatbelt and hands-free cell phone restrictions

Full Unrestricted License – Age 17

  • Must pass a vision and driving test
  • All previous restrictions are lifted

Meeting the requirements at each stage allows teen drivers to slowly gain experience under supervision and reduced risk before getting full license privileges. Research shows that effective GDL programs reduce fatal crashes among teens by as much as 40%.

Additional Ways to Improve Teen Driver Safety

While Kansas law provides an important framework, parents, schools, and communities must also take an active role in promoting safe habits for new drivers. Some key ways to help teens stay safe include:

  • More supervised driving practice: Extensive practice under various road conditions and times of day is critical. Parents should log at least 50 hours of practicing with their teens.
  • Parental monitoring and restrictions: Parents should set clear rules and monitor driving behaviors like speeding and cell phone use. At first, restrict driving under high-risk conditions, like at night or with teen passengers.
  • Driver’s education: Require more rigorous driver’s education and consider advanced courses on hazard perception and crash avoidance.
  • Peer-to-peer education: Use teen role models to educate about risky driving behaviors through school campaigns.
  • Technology: When possible, equip teen vehicles with event data recorders or limiters to prevent excessive speeding.

Working Together for Safer Teen Drivers

Teen driving safety is a complex issue, but one that deserves our utmost attention considering the devastating impacts of motor vehicle crashes on youth. Kansas has made great strides through its GDL program, but more work remains at the state policy level as well as in our local communities. Parents, schools, policymakers, and teen drivers themselves all have a role to play in addressing risky teen driving behaviors. Through education, smart policies, safety technology, and rigorous driver training programs, we can help ensure our newest drivers travel safely on the road to adulthood.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a negligent driver, we can help. Call now for a free consultation on (888) 477-0597. We have offices in 32 locations across 19 states, including Kansas, Nebraska, and South Carolina, and our attorneys have successfully helped many accident victims recover damages and pursue legal action when warranted. Don’t delay in seeking experienced legal counsel – call our office today.