Collision-Avoidance Technologies Can Improve Safety for Teen Drivers

By Member Michael Graham

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, approximately 2,400 teens in the United States aged 13–19 died and about 258,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. This means that approximately 7 teens died, and hundreds more were injured, every day due to preventable motor vehicle crashes.

These numbers are staggering and unacceptable.

From our investigations, we know that collision-avoidance technologies—increasingly seen in newer vehicles—can help reduce that number. And a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study has also found that crash-avoidance features and teen-specific vehicle technologies have the potential to prevent or mitigate up to 75% of all fatal crashes involving teen drivers. Collision-avoidance technologies include features such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), collision warning, and lane departure prevention. These features can serve to warn a driver of an impending crash and stop or slow the vehicle to prevent or mitigate a collision.

To increase awareness about the life-saving capabilities of collision-avoidance technologies among parents, teens, and educators, on March 23, I convened a panel of teen driving safety experts and researchers to explore how collision-avoidance technologies can improve the safety of our teen drivers. ​​ Panelists included representatives from the IIHS, Alliance for Automotive Innovation, OFFICIAL Driving Schools, AAA National, and INRIX, as well as investigators from the NTSB.

During this webinar, we discussed the role of vehicle technology in reducing teen traffic crashes and fatalities. We dove deeper into the IIHS’s recent research on collision-avoidance technology and teen driver safety, explored perspectives from educators and the automotive industry, and addressed how vehicle technology, if made standard in all vehicles, can contribute to equitable and accessible safe transportation for all.

I encourage all of you to watch the full recording of our webinar—but especially if you’re a parent, educator, motor vehicle administrator, or highway department of transportation employee.

One point we all agreed on during the webinar, is that these technologies have the potential to dramatically improve safety for teen drivers. However, they need to be broadly accepted and equitable, and the barriers to adoption—such as education, awareness, availability, and affordability—need to be addressed.

Here were some of the key takeaways, as summed up by our panelists:

  • We need to emphasize education and safe driving behavior. We also need to educate drivers on how these systems function and the role of the driver. It’s important to integrate these technologies into driver skills training to broaden awareness.
  • We must understand how teens are interacting with collision-avoidance systems. There’s an opportunity for engagement with academics and researchers to dig into the data and look at it from a local level.
  • More work should be done for equity and access.
  • Modern training vehicles at driving schools, preparing instructors to educate teens on these technologies, and better communication between driving schools and parents about the benefits of these technologies could instill the benefits of collision-avoidance technologies and encourage voluntary adoption.
  • State departments or agencies that provide training curriculum to driving schools should encourage technology use and incorporate it in the training curriculum.
  • States need to look at their existing graduated driver license law (GDL) and strengthen them to ensure they have a comprehensive GDL program that provides a three-stage graduated process for newly licensed young drivers to gain experience while minimizing risk.
  • We are heading in the wrong direction with fatalities; we must do more at the federal level, with the new car assessment ratings and research to help us guide the technology forward. These collision-avoidance technologies should be standard in all vehicles.

As a result of our crash investigations, the NTSB has made numerous recommendations to implement and encourage the use of collision-avoidance technologies. The topic is highlighted on our 2021–2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (MWL), and teen driving safety has been a topic on previous MWLs. We encourage you to check out our webpages on these topics to learn more about our specific recommendations.

May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month. If you haven’t already done so this month, take the time to learn more about these technologies—for the sake of your teen and the sake of road safety. The IIHS, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the National Safety Council all offer information on these technologies. What better way to protect our next generation of drivers than to learn more now about these life-saving technologies? As we all work toward achieving zero traffic deaths and serious injuries on our roads, we must remember that it all begins with preparing our teens with the best possible technologies and strategies for preventing roadway crashes.

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