When Teen Crash Research and Reality Collide

September 3, 2013

Two Monday evenings ago work and life collided in an eerie way. My daughter, Gabby, was driving me home when all of a sudden a car surged on our left. She slammed on the brakes, but we both understood in that split second we could not avoid the crash. We hit that car with force, and for that one instant, everything was in God's hands. Once panic settled, we were relieved to see that everyone, including the other driver, had survived the crash with no serious injury. 

Even though I have an impeccable driving record, I think about crashes daily. Ironically, as a Research Engineer at CIRP@CHOP, I study teen driver crashes for a living.

When I finally managed to step out of the car, I was confronted by the other driver -- a very angry young man. He screamed that his car had just been fixed from a previous crash, and he was bringing it back from the garage! As we exchanged documentation for insurance purposes, I got hold of his license, a junior license, also known as a probationary license. This young driver was 17 years old and had only been driving on his own for about two months. I thought to myself, "another teen crash." Fortunately, this one only caused material damage as opposed to many other teen crashes. In 2011, 3,150 people died in teen driver crashes, including 1,280 teen drivers and 933 of their passengers. In 2010, nearly 282,000 16- to 19-year-olds were treated and released from emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes.

While waiting for the police to come, Gabby and I looked over the scene. How did this happen? As it turns out we were reaching a 4-way intersection when the teen driver appeared on our left. He was driving on a one-way street and clearly had two stop signs on both sides of the road. It’s still not clear to me whether he stopped but failed to look both ways or if he failed to stop altogether and ran the stop sign.

What is clear: We’re glad to be alive and uninjured, I am grateful that my daughter was scanning for hazards and not driving distracted or I wouldn’t be here writing this post. She is in her 20s and has the benefit of experience and maturity.

The theme of this year’s National Teen Driver Safety Week is “It Takes Two: Shared Expectations for Parents and Teens for Driving.” While I’m not sure what caused this teen driver to crash into us, my hope is that the young man will work with his parents to accrue additional supervised driving hours and practice scanning ahead for stop signs and other hazards, judging the distance and timing of oncoming traffic, and avoid distracted driving.

Data sources: 2011 Fatality Analysis Reporting System, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 2010 National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), National Center for Statistics and Analysis, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration