teen girl looking at phone while driving

Teens and Driving: What are the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer?

We all know that for most teens, an important milestone in life is the day they get their driver’s license – but before parents sign off on letting their teens start driving, it’s essential they know about something transportation safety experts call the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer.

The 100 deadliest days of summer refer to the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day – basically the months of June, July, and August – during which motor vehicle fatalities involving teenagers spike to their highest levels. This is true for all teens, regardless whether they have behavioral issues or another type of mental health disorder that includes risky behavior. This article will lay out everything parents and teens need to know about the dangers of summer driving. We’ll share facts and figures about teen driving and teen driving habits, risk factors for teen driving fatalities, ways parents can lead by example while behind the wheel, things parents can do to teach teens about safe driving before they get their license. We’ll close this article with a distracted driving self-assessment, which we think will yield surprising results for almost everyone.

We’ll start with specific information on teen driving fatalities during the summer months.

The 100 Deadliest Days of Summer: Facts and Figures

  • 2012-2021 (summer months):
    • 7,316 total fatalities involving teen drivers
    • 812 deaths per year
    • 8 deaths per day
  • Summer driving fatalities involving teens account for over half of teen driving deaths each year
  • Wyoming has the highest rate of summertime teen driving fatalities:
    • 8 deaths per year per 10,000
  • Kansas has the lowest rate of summertime teen driving fatalities in the U.S.
    • 43 deaths per year per 10,000
  • Data Trends, Memorial Day to Labor Day, teen-involved driving fatalities:
    • 2018: 669
    • 2019: 716
    • 2020: 851
    • 2021: 900

The facts tell the story: summer driving is dangerous – and even deadly – for teens. And the problem is getting worse every year. This is particularly frustrating, because we know how to fix it. The challenge is getting teens to take the advice of all the experts.

Helping Teens Arrive Alive

Teaching teens the basics of driving safety for the summer starts with us, the adults.

We need to understand what’s at stake and teach our kids the basics of driving safety. We can start by leading by example, which we’ll discuss in a moment. We also need to know the facts – like those we present above and will present below – and be prepared to talk to our kids about them in a way that’s simple and direct. If the facts scare the teens as much as they scare most parents, then this is one instance where fear is a good thing. We want our teens to be afraid of things like drunk driving, texting and driving, and driving too fast for one very food reason: it can save their lives.

Here’s another set of facts parents need to know about teen driving. These are big-picture facts, rather than 100-deadliest-days-of-summer facts.

General Facts to Know About Teens/Young Adult Driving

  • 60% of crashes involving teens is caused by distracted driving. There are three types of distraction:
    • Visual: seeing something that takes attention off driving
    • Manual: taking hand off wheel for any reason
    • Cognitive: thoughts or co versations that take attention off driving
  • 44% of car crash fatalities involving teens happen between 9pm and 6am
    • 50% occur on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night
  • 56% of teens who died in car crashes were not wearing a seatbelt
  • New Mexico has the highest rate of teen driving fatalities in the U.S.:
    • 67 deaths per year per 10,000
  • Minnesota has the lowest rate of teen driving fatalities in the U.S.
    • 75 deaths per year per 10,000
  • In addition, drivers under age 20:
    • Make up 5.1% of licensed drivers in U.S.
    • Account for 8.5% of drivers in fatal crashes
    • Represent 12.6% of drivers in all crashes

Again, the facts align with the warnings: compared to all other demographic groups, teens are at the greatest risk of dying in an automobile accident.

But why?

Teens and Driving During Summer: What Factors Increase Risk of Fatal Crashes?

We’ll start with the most obvious reason: they’re inexperienced drivers. Here’s how the public relations team at AAA describe the situation with teens behind the wheel:

“Teen drivers have a greater risk of crashing because they lack experience behind the wheel. During the summer months, teens often drive without an adult in the vehicle as they drive to jobs, meet friends, and head to summer destinations. Research shows that teens drivers are far more likely to die in crashes when they have friends in the car.”

Safety experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) agree, and identify seven additional factors that contribute to teen driving fatalities:

  1. Inexperience
  2. Driving with other teenagers in the car
  3. Driving at night
  4. Not wearing seat belts
  5. Distracted driving
  6. Driving while too tired
  7. Reckless/aggressive driving
  8. Drunk/high/impaired driving

Reading this list, we understand that the only thing that cures inexperience is experience: it takes time to get comfortable driving, and handling all the various things that can happen during simple, short trips.

Time cures inexperience, but what about those other factors?

We’re curious to learn whether teens engage in those behaviors. The 2021 Traffic Safety Culture Index, a national survey conducted by AAA, includes data that, to be honest, no parent want to read.

Teen Behavior Behind the Wheel: AAA Survey

  • 46% admit to holding/talking on cell phone while driving
  • 39% report driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit on a side street
  • 37% report reading a text or email on a cell phone while driving
  • 34% report driving at least 15 mph over the speed limit on a highway
  • 28% report texting while driving
  • 27% admit running a red light while speeding
  • 25% admit to aggressive driving
  • 16% report driving while too tired
  • 12% report driving without a seatbelt
  • 8% report riding in a car with a drunk driver
  • 6% admit to driving within an hour of using marijuana
  • 4% admit to driving while under the influence of alcohol

Parents don’t want to read those facts, but they have to. They show us – just like the first two sets of data, above – exactly why teens die in car crashes more than any other demographic group. The reason is simple: they engage in risky driving behavior more than any other demographic group, which causes accidents.

What can parents do to prevent this type of risky behavior?

Talk to Your Teen, Teach Your Teen, Show Your Teen

Traffic and driving safety experts advise parents to do these five things before allowing their teenager to get a driver’s license and start driving:

  1. Talk to them – from an early age – about safe driving habits, including:
    • Wearing seatbelts.
    • Paying attention.
  2. Talk to them – from an early age – about dangerous driving habits, including:
    • Speeding
    • Impaired driving
    • Distracted driving.
  3. Require them to take a driver’s education course from a reputable organization.
  4. Write and get your teen to sign a driving contract/driving agreement that establishes a set of non-negotiable rules for driving.
  5. Spend a minimum of 50 hours in the car with your teen, practicing driving:
    • That’s less than one hour a week for a year.

Time for a news flash: teens don’t always learn so well through parent lectures or formal lessons. The most effective way to instill safe driving habits in your teen is by modeling them yourself, i.e. leading by example.

Do these seven things, and your teen is likely to do them, too.

Teens, Driving, and Summer: Seven Ways to Lead by Example

  1. Wear your seat belt.
  2. Obey all traffic laws.
  3. Never use your phone while driving.
  4. Avoid speeding.
  5. Avoid tailgating
  6. Use turn signals.
  7. Avoid driving when tired or angry.
Note: there are no exceptions to these rules. The adage is true: your teen is more likely to do what you do than what you say. That’s why we encourage you to step up and follow these rules: if your kid sees you make an exception to these rules, they’re likely to do the same in a similar situation.

One more thing. Parents, please live by this advice:

It’s never okay to use your phone while driving.
Put the phone away.

Live by that advice so your kids see it happen every single time they get in the car with you during their entire childhood.

Are You a Distracted Driver?

As we mention earlier in this article, there are three types of categories of distraction related to driving. Visual distractions occur when we see something that takes our attention off driving, manual distractions occur when we take our hands off the steering wheel for any reason, and cognitive distractions occur when we have thoughts or conversations that take attention off driving.

Visual and manual distractions are obvious, but the phrase cognitive distraction, in the context of driving, is new to us, and something we think everyone should pay attention to: our thoughts can distract us and increase our risk of having a fatal accident. While that’s not necessarily news, it’s something most of us probably haven’t thought about – but need to consider – as we teach our children to drive and prepare them for a lifetime of safe driving.

We’ll now share the distracted driving self-assessment, as promised above. We encourage you to take this short test, be honest with yourself, and change any behavior of yours that you need to. Next, have your teen take the test, and discuss the results.


Distracted Driving Self-Assessment

(From the National Road Safety Foundation)

Do you…

  • Buckle your seatbelt after you start driving?
  • Adjust your seat while you’re driving?
  • Use your phone or text while driving?
  • Use a hands-free device?
  • Check social media while driving?
  • Read maps or look at GPS while driving?
  • Fiddle with the radio dial while driving?
  • Listen to/fiddle with an iPod while driving?
  • Have videos playing while you drive?
  • Put on makeup or shave while driving?
  • Comb your hair while driving?
  • Eat or drink when you drive?
  • Grab/pick up/reach for objects in the car while driving?
  • Face your passengers while talking?
  • Get involved in intense conversations while driving?

If you answer yes to any of the questions above, then you’ve engaged in distracted driving. Research shows that people who use a hand-held device while driving are four times more likely to get into a serious crash. Data also shows that using a hands-free device is not as safe as we’d like to think: it impairs reaction time the same amount as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, which is over the legal limit.

You Set the Tone: Teen Drivers Look to Parents

We can’t stress this enough: the best way to instill safe driving habits in your teen is to model them every time you get in the car. If you start early, then safe driving will be second nature to them, because they’ll think that’s how it’s done. They won’t think about texting and driving because they never know it’s an option. The same goes for other distractions: if they never see it happen, they’re less likely to do it.

Therefore, we suggest taking the distracted driver assessment seriously. For instance, do you really put on your seatbelt before pulling out of the driveway every time? Do you reach to the back seat for a water bottle or a snack? Do you pay attention to the GPS screen rather than listening to the prompts?

Some of these things might seem excessive, like we’re going overboard in order to err on the side of caution. While that may be partially true, we have good reason: the data we present in the beginning of this article shows teen driving fatalities are increasing year over year. That means we need to do something different than what we’ve been doing all these years. Perhaps what we think is safe is not really safe: we’ll leave that for you to decide, based on the data we share, and the advice of driving safety experts on the dangers of distracted driving.