NJ teen drivers now in their ‘100 Deadliest Days,’ according to AAA
While it doesn't quite line up with the calendar season, the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day signifies summer for most New Jerseyans.
It also commonly works out to about 100 days, but for AAA, they are the "100 Deadliest Days" for teenage drivers.
From 2010 through 2019 in New Jersey, these "summer" days, equating to just over 25% of the year, accounted for 29% of deaths in crashes involving teen drivers, including 81 drivers themselves.
The percentage difference is even more stark in neighboring states such as Connecticut (36%) and New York (37%), reflecting a time during which seven teens die per day in crashes nationwide, compared with six the rest of the year.
According to AAA, drivers aged 16 and 17 are three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than an adult driver.
"Kids are out of school, particularly high school students but college students as well, and they get out on the road, and young drivers lack the skills and experience to be safe drivers," said Robert Sinclair Jr., AAA Northeast senior manager for public affairs.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of drivers ages 16 through 18 recently surveyed by AAA admitted to engaging in some sort of risky behavior behind the wheel, led by driving 10 mph over the speed limit in a residential area (47%) or 15 mph over the limit on a highway (40%).
"You combine their lack of skills and experience, you combine their being out of school and not having a lot of structured time and getting out on the road, and then you throw in these bad behaviors, and it's a formula for disaster," Sinclair said.
Most concerningly for Sinclair, 35% of these teens said they were guilty of texting while driving, despite that practice receiving so much attention in local and national public awareness campaigns.
"You can't do two things at one time," Sinclair said. "You can't take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel in order to text when you're behind the wheel. I don't care what age you might be or how much experience you might have."
New Jersey State Police fatal crash statistics separate victims into groups of 18- to 20-year-olds, 17-year-olds, and those 16 and under. So far in 2021, nine drivers under the age of 21 have died, but only one of them was under 18.
Fatalities among under-21 drivers were down in 2020 to just 21, perhaps owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there were 28 deaths in this grouping in 2019, a pace the Garden State seems to be tracking toward this year.
AAA has previously decried the fact that New Jersey is one of just three states that does not mandate a set number of practice hours for prospective young drivers. Sinclair recommends at least 50 to 100 hours before a teen receives a license.
"There's just really no substitute for that practice driving and that experience, and for the parent to remain calm and collected while they're riding with their teen," he said.
Parents can do their part by modeling good driving behavior basically from a child's birth forward, according to Sinclair, and they can find more resources about how to reinforce good driving habits at teendriving.AAA.com.
Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.