With long days, warm nights, and no school to speak of, summer is the season where teenagers practice carefree living—and careless driving.
Deadly car crashes involving drivers age 16 through 19 jump 15 percent during the period bookended by Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Over the past 5 years, those months alone have seen more than 1,600 traffic fatalities at the hands of teen drivers, the AAA study shows. Summer has been so notoriously associated with automotive death for so long, the organization has dubbed that time the “100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers.
Without school to pen them up, there are more teenage motorists on the roads in general. And more of them are likely to have their friends in tow—which is where the most danger lies.
Nearly 60 percent of all crashes involving teen drivers are caused by distracted driving, but the largest share of those crashes actually don’t stem from cell phone use.
According to the AAA study, 15 percent of crashes involving drivers age 16 through 19 are caused by distractions from having passengers in the car.
The next biggest distraction is responding to calls or text messages, which is responsible for 12 percent of the incidents, according to the study.
But traffic accidents caused by young drivers aren’t limited to the sunny season.
In general, the crash rate for 16- and 17-year-olds behind the wheel is 2 times higher than their 18- and 19-year-old peers. Those drivers are also nearly 4.5 times more likely to get in an accident than 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings on the road, the AAA report stated.
All told, drivers age 16 and 17 are collectively 9 times as likely as an 18-year-old driver to crash, and 6 times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash.
Sadly, those numbers reflect a long upward trend. Information collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed a 10 percent spike of teen driver deaths in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.
That year, automotive accidents were the number one cause of death for teenagers. Six drivers between ages 16 and 19 died every day in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
State DMVs have tried to combat the issue by instituting graduated license programs—with some success. In the private sector, meanwhile, teen driver technology is on the rise to help worried parents track the rides their young drivers make.
Still, the best way for wary teens to avoid such a tragic fate may be to learn how to remain cool-headed in the warm summer months.