Teen girls are driving, crashing more like boys

Tuesday, January 8, 2002

On the Net

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: www.nhtsa.dot.gov

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: www.highwaysafety.org

By Nedra Pickler ~ The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Sixteen-year-old boys still are the most risky drivers on the road, but the girls are gaining.

For every 1,000 licensed 16-year-old girls, 175 got in car accidents in 2000, according to federal accident data. That's up 9 percent from 1990, when 160 girls crashed per 1,000 drivers.

Accidents for 16-year-old boys decreased slightly during the same period, from 216 to 210 per 1,000 drivers.

Susan Ferguson, senior vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said Monday that boys are crashing less because of safer vehicle designs and less drunken driving.

"While women would have experienced those improvements as well, they are crashing more because they are driving more miles," she said.

Insurance industry statistics show girls 16 to 19 are driving 70 percent more than in 1975, averaging 6,870 miles a year. Teen boys are driving 16 percent more, averaging 8,200 miles a year.

That means parents are having to pay more to insure their teen daughters. State Farm Insurance, the nation's largest auto insurer, charged 16- to 20-year-old males 61 percent more than females in 1985. Now the difference has fallen to 41 percent.

Traffic accidents were the leading cause of death for teens 16 to 19 in 2000, with 5,600 killed. Two-thirds were boys, according to the insurance institute.

Youngest most at risk

The youngest drivers have the highest likelihood of crashing. Sixteen-year-olds crash three times more often than 17-year-olds and five times more often than 18-year-olds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Safety advocates say more states should restrict 16-year-olds' driving privileges until they prove their ability behind the wheel. In the past four years, 34 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted graduated licensing programs where young drivers get more privileges -- such as driving at night or carrying passengers -- as they get older.

The 2000 accident rate for all 16-year-old drivers -- boys and girls -- was 193 per 1,000 drivers, while the rate for all 19-year-old drivers was 38 percent lower -- 120 per 1,000 drivers.

"The very first year of driving, boys or girls, is very dangerous and you get better and better with experience," said NHTSA spokesman Tim Hurd. "This shows that for young men and women, graduated licensing is important and they need more practice."

NHTSA recommends that states restrict nighttime driving and the number of teen-age passengers for drivers under 18.

Linda Blue, a mother of two teen-age girls in Grand Blanc, Mich., does not allow her 14- and 16-year-old daughters to ride with other teen drivers. Her older daughter was in a crash last year while a passenger in a friend's vehicle.

Blue said she is appalled at some of the driving maneuvers she sees her older daughter's girlfriends exhibit and has urged her to be safe.

"The girls give her grief about going the speed limit on the freeway," Blue said. "They call her the granny driver because she follows the rules."

The data on teen accidents was first reported Monday in USA Today.

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