CALIFORNIA — Slow down. That’s the takeaway for teen drivers from a new Governors Highway Safety Association report. From 2015 to 2019, teen drivers and passengers between the ages of 16 and 19 accounted for 43% of speeding-related roadway fatalities in the U.S., according to the GHSA.
In California, 979 teen drivers and passengers died between 2015 and 2019. Of those, 453 – or 46% – were related to speeding.
Excessive vehicle speed is a factor in nearly one-third of all motor vehicle-related fatalities, according to the GHSA, but the trend has only worsened during the pandemic, with less-crowded roads inspiring more speeding. It’s a nationwide trend. A GHSA report from April 2020 found that speeds were up by as much as 30% on some Los Angeles streets; on a single day in New York City last March, the city's automated speed cameras issued almost double the number of speeding tickets compared with a year earlier.
Released Tuesday, and conducted in partnership with Ford Motor Co., the GHSA’s Teens and Speeding study underscores the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite fewer drivers being on the road, traffic fatalities have increased during the pandemic. Traffic deaths were up 13.1% in the third quarter of 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier.
“Our country has a speeding problem that has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. “Thousands of people die needlessly on our roads because some drivers mistakenly think less traffic means they can speed and nothing bad will happen. The data tell us that teen drivers are the most likely to be tempted to speed, so the need to address this issue is more critical than ever given traffic death trends during the pandemic.”
Safety experts have long known that speed plays a large role in deadly crashes involving teens. In such crashes, the driver is more likely to be male, to have run off the road or rolled the vehicle, and also to be unbuckled. The risk of a teen driver being involved in a fatal crash due to speeding rises with each additional passenger in the vehicle, the GHSA found.
The Teens and Speeding report warned that more teens, after months of COVID-inspired lockdowns, will be at increased risk of speeding-related crashes as vaccinations become more widespread and teens begin to get together again, often driving around in cars.
In its report, the GHSA pointed to the need for driver education and training as well as graduated driver licensing laws that limit when a teen may drive and with whom. California has had such a law since 1997, but many other states do not.
The GHSA report found that Hawaii had the highest percentage of teen driver and passenger fatalities due to speeding at 83%. Mississippi had the lowest percentage at 20%.