Teen Driving Habits Get Riskier in Senior Year of High School

Teen Driving Habits Get Riskier in Senior Year of High School

As summer vacation winds down, older teenagers are brimming with confidence about their driving abilities – and that might not be a good thing.

As summer vacation winds down, older teenagers are brimming with confidence about their driving abilities – and that might not be a good thing.

A study commissioned by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) finds that older teen drivers are overconfident and perceive themselves as safer drivers. This is despite the fact that 57 percent of high school seniors said they’ve experienced an accident or near-miss, compared to 34 percent of sophomores.

While 75 percent of high school seniors said they’re confident in their driving abilities, they’re also more prone to engage in risky driving behaviors. Seventy-one percent of seniors admitting they use their phone while driving – most often at a red light or stop sign or in stop-and-go traffic – compared to 55 percent of sophomores.

Some 67 percent of seniors admitted to using apps at least sometimes while driving, compared to 49 percent of sophomores and 58 percent of juniors.


“It’s natural for teens to gain confidence behind the wheel as they get older and log more driving hours,” said Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD and executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “However, this age group is more likely to test the boundaries as consequences for bad driving behaviors decrease and their freedoms and responsibilities at home increase, making them feel more like adults. As a result, it is even more important for parents and teens to have conversations about safe driving practices to avoid potentially putting themselves and others at risk on the road.”

Mike Sample, lead driving safety expert and technical consultant at Liberty Mutual, added that older teens – despite their own feelings of confidence behind the wheel – still are inexperienced drivers.

“That’s why it is important to continue to emphasize the effects and potential consequences of phone use while driving to this age group,” Sample said. “Using an app behind the wheel, even glancing away for a second, can impair your driving ability and set off a chain reaction that could lead to a near-miss or crash. Hyper-connected teens must be reminded to always pull over before using their phone. It is just not worth the risk of crashing.”

The Role of Parents

Parents are key influencers when it comes to teens’ behaviors behind the wheel – both their current habits and ones they might pick up as they gain experience and confidence. Beresin and Sample offered the following tips to help parents encourage safe driving behaviors:

  • Keep practicing. Nearly 40 percent of teens say their parents stop practicing driving with them after they get their license. Teaching shouldn’t stop when teens leave the DMV with a license in hand. Parents should continue to drive with their teens and remind them of safe driving behaviors with frequent check-ins and conversations.
  • Hold each other accountable. Mom, dad and teens all can be held accountable, and parents can set a good example with monitoring technology such as Liberty Mutual’s HighwayHero app. The app tracks and scores driving behavior based on factors including phone usage while driving, acceleration, hard braking and speeding. The app also can reward drivers with a discount on auto insurance in some states.
  • Reward safe driving. Parents can consider regularly rewarding their teen for safe driving. Rather than focusing on the consequences of bad driving behavior, a reward such as a break from a specific chore or a $10 gift card could be an effective way to remind teens to think about their actions while driving.
  • Set expectations. Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD encourage parents and teens to use the Teen Driving Contract​ as a conversation starter and discussion guide. The tool covers important safety issues and is an easy roadmap for parents and teens to uphold family driving rules.

For more information, visit www.libertymutual.com/teendriving.

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