Too young to die; teen drivers, teen passengers

Fatal crash from 2015 near Kanab, Utah | Photo courtesy of Zero Fatalities Utah, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Hunter Chase Johnson, of Bountiful, had plans for the future, seeing himself possibly serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, joining the U.S. Air Force and attending college to become a brain surgeon. But that was all taken away when he died in a head-on crash July 3, 2016.

Johnson’s story, along with those of 14 other Utah teens killed in traffic accidents last year, can be found in the 2016 Teen Memoriam, part of the “Don’t Drive Stupid” campaign that aims to end traffic-related teen deaths by educating young drivers about the importance of being safe behind the wheel.

National Teen Driver Safety Week, typically held the third week of October, aims to raise awareness of the tremendous risks teens face on the road and to remind them to think twice before driving distracted. No matter the week, parents can encourage safe driving behaviors and help teens to avoid distractions and risky behaviors behind the wheel.

In Utah, 43 teens were killed in fatal crashes last year, the highest number of deaths since 2009.

Nationally, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, ahead of all other types of injury, disease or violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Infographic courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, St. George News

Further, teens have a fatal crash rate per mile that is nearly three times higher than the rate for drivers 20 and over, according to the Institute for Highway Safety. In 2015 more than 2,700 teens died on the nation’s roads, which is the equivalent of every single student at an average high school in America being killed every year – multiplied by three. Motor vehicle crashes injured another 220,000 teens in 2015 as well.

“We have to do better,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement released Tuesday “and as parents we should all model, teach, and enforce good driving habits for our young drivers.”

Researchers believe the higher rate of crashes for this demographic is linked to their lack of skills and experience, as well as immaturity. They speed, they make mistakes, and they get distracted easily – particularly when their friends are in the car.

St. George Police Officer Andy Mickelson, in an interview with St. George News, provided support for the theory. Teen drivers share common driving behaviors observed routinely by officers, he said, and seen most often is distracted driving. The culprit tends to be cellphone use or other passengers in the vehicle.

“Phones are huge, and teens have no business having a phone in their hand while they’re driving a car.”

Infographic courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, St. George News

By law, teen drivers are allowed to call their parents or make a call to 911 on their cellphones in an emergency; otherwise, they can be cited, Mickelson said, adding that the law for teen drivers is different than for anyone else.

“They are not allowed to handle or use the phone unless they are calling a parent or in an emergency,” he said, “but changing music with the phone is not an emergency.”

Passengers can be a significant distraction as well, particularly when a group of teens is in the vehicle together. By the same token, Mickelson said, passengers can play a huge role in increasing the safety of everyone in the vehicle by minimizing distractions so the driver can focus on the road.

After the teen is issued a license there is a six-month period during which the driver is prohibited from having any passengers other than parents or other family members.

When teen drivers are stopped they generally offer very few excuses, Mickelson said, noting that as a difference between teen and other drivers. They usually have a good idea of why they were stopped and are truthful in their answers, he said.

The most significant difference lies in the way that officers respond and their reaction when called to a crash involving a teenager, Mickelson said. There is a heightened level of fear that injuries may be so significant that they are fatal.

Infographic courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, St. George News

Parents are the No. 1 influence on teen driver safety. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey shows teens whose parents impose driving restrictions and set good examples for them typically engage in less risky driving and are involved in fewer crashes.

Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Todd Royce agreed. Parents taking an active role in teaching their teens safe driving behaviors significantly increase safety for their youth. Keeping track of what their kids are doing behind the wheel can prevent them from engaging in risky behaviors that can have deadly consequences.

“As much as parents think their kids don’t listen to them, that’s not true,” Royce said. “As a matter of fact, parents have the strongest influence in their teenager’s life, and their involvement and example can make all of the difference in the world for these kids.”

Experience on the road enables drivers to estimate distance and speed more accurately, as well as providing numerous opportunities to react to other drivers, use defensive or evasive driving maneuvers or other responses that can prevent a crash.

Teens lack this experience because there is nothing that replaces time spent driving except time spent driving; so, inexperience plays a huge role in the types and causes of many of the crashes officers deal with that involve young drivers.

The NHTSA’s “5 to Drive” campaign identifies five things teens can do to reduce risk and drive safely:

  1. Buckle up every trip, every time, everyone. In 84 percent of cases involving a teen driver unbuckled, the passengers were also unbuckled.
  2. No alcohol.  Nearly 1 in 5 teens involved in fatal crashes in 2015 had been drinking.
  3. No cellphones. Teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes in 2015.
  4. No speeding. Nearly one-third of all vehicles carrying teen passengers involved in a fatal crash in 2015 were speeding.
  5. No extra passengers. The likelihood of a teen driver engaging in risky behaviors behind the wheel triples with multiple passengers when compared to driving alone.

For more information and statistics on teen driving go to the NHTSA’s  teen driving webpage.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.  

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.



Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!


  • Christine October 21, 2017 at 9:58 am

    As much as this campaign is trying, to call a memorandum “Don’t drive Stupid” is disrespectful to the dead. Why isn’t “don’t drive Distracted”? Yeah, yeah, all this stuff is stupid. But still.

  • NickDanger October 21, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Every time I want to say teenagers should be more restricted in some way I remember being a teenager.

    I don’t think driving skill has anything to do with age, you could make people wait until they’re 25 to start driving and they’ll still be inexperienced drivers.

    I started driving at 15. My dad started driving at 12 – his crazy Italian uncles in New York would toss him the keys to the car and send him on errands. That would have been the 1950’s, and I guess it was no big deal back then.

    I do think we could do more to prevent teenagers from using phones and devices while driving. With all our technology, there’s got to be a way to shut down their phones and devices while their car is running, and as much as they’ll hate that, I would support that kind of restriction. Drive OR use the phone, one or the other. Easy.

    But maybe we should be more concerned with creating safer roads for them to test their skills on. They’re going to do some risky stuff, some showing off, make some bad decisions, that’s what teenagers do. But if our roads are safe, the damage will be minimized.

    That’s my sideways way of saying the traffic situation in St. George needs a lot of work.

    • comments October 21, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      “safer roads”??? Would that mean law enforcement actually enforcing laws already on the books? How do we “make safer roads”?

      • NickDanger October 22, 2017 at 10:30 am

        There are plenty of ways to make safer roads, and if you want me to be specific, here you are:

        First of all, roundabouts are unnecessarily dangerous, as clearly evidenced by the fact that they are the locations of a lot of our accidents. They are confusing to out-of-towners, and St. George is constantly entertaining a non-stop flow of out-of-town traffic. These should all be replaced by traffic lights or 4-way stops as appropriate.

        Secondly, the confusing array of (all-too-frequently partially or fully-concealed) stop signs at non-sequential intervals in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown St. George are a constant source of accidents. Some of them are 4-way stops, some of them aren’t, and this is an area that also entertains quite a bit of out-of-town traffic. These stops need to be consistently arranged going one direction or the other, or they should all be 4-way stops, or perhaps some of them need to be replaced by traffic lights. But the current array isn’t doing the accident statistics in this town any favors, it’s confusing and sometimes coutner-intuitive.

        There are several intersections in St. George where making a left turn is a hope against hope, and the traffic signal is only going to give you a flashing yellow arrow and wish you luck.

        The flow of traffic is all wrong at Green Springs Dr. The area was over-optimistically zoned for multiple strip malls with huge anchor stores and now it’s a traffic nightmare. That entire area needs additional traffic lanes and they need to follow through with their plan to build another exit for local residents, as soon as possible.

        There’s entirely too much traffic flowing down Bluff Street onto Sunset. That tells us that another route is needed into that area, a bypass of some kind.

        There are numerous poorly-conceived intersections and poorly-timed traffic lights around. For the most part they do a fair job with the timing, though, I’ll give credit for that.

        But in any case, addressing the above issues would be an excellent start to getting this town’s unusual traffic problems, which are exacerbated by the large number of elderly, inexperienced, and out-of-town drivers, under control.

  • DRT October 21, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    I’ve got so many thoughts on things this article and responding posts talks about, I don’t think I can cover them all here. First;

    “Phones are huge, and teens have no business having a phone in their hand while they’re driving a car.”

    OK, I couldn’t agree more! But NOBODY has any business having a phone in their hand while they’re driving, including “professional” drivers, and emergency responders, and law enforcement. I’ve seen more than one LEO do something stupid while driving and talking on the phone. And from more than one agency. And I see big truck truck drivers talking on the phone, while trying to navigate city streets with a big road tractor and a 53 foot trailer.

    And this particular paragraph from NickDanger;

    “But maybe we should be more concerned with creating safer roads for them to test their skills on. They’re going to do some risky stuff, some showing off, make some bad decisions, that’s what teenagers do. But if our roads are safe, the damage will be minimized.”

    There is just no way that roads are going to be made safe enough that all accidents will be prevented. Other than that one paragraph, I agree completely with NickDanger’s post.
    What I would really like to see, is a study of young adult women, probably in the twenty five to thirty five year of age group. No, I’m not bashing women drivers here. But I am saying that from personal observation, this is the group that is most likely to be driving while talking on the phone. And for some reason these folks cannot multi-task well enough to concentrate on both their phones, and their driving.

  • comments October 21, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    I drove like a lunatic as a teen. I had an old honda accord, well, it wasn’t too old back then, it never was very fast since just a lil 4cyl car, but I’d find some downhills and blast the thing up to 135mph. Cars back in those days had pretty much no safety features besides a seat belt. I loved to drive like a lunatic. Teens are idiots. I really don’t like teens at all. It’s a wonder I’m still alive I’ve come close to being killed so many times. LOt of “near miss” experiences, and not just driving. LOL, I’ll probly never understand it. oh well

    • ladybugavenger October 21, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      Are you having survivors guilt?

      God has you here for a reason, Bob. One day you’ll know why you are still here. Until then, God bless!

      • comments October 22, 2017 at 4:37 pm

        Would be good to know, huh?

    • .... October 22, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      You still are a lunatic

      • comments October 22, 2017 at 4:38 pm

        Could be, Dump, could be, never know….

  • mesaman October 21, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    I submit that very few teenagers will listen and read these pleas to be good drivers. But then those in the next 50 year old category is nothing to cheer and admire. Patience, courtesy, and maturity; how many will respond to these pleas?

  • Icomments2 October 21, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    I don’t think it’s the roads that’s a problem. I do however think it’s the lack of experience, and the lack of proper training from the driver’s training in the schools, and the lack of driver’s training from the parents. Yes I was a teen once too and I did many stupid things. And I’m amazed I’m still alive. But the roads aren’t the danger it’s the drivers. And in this town we have so many elderly drivers and teen drivers, and that makes for a bad mix.

  • darkgoddess October 22, 2017 at 8:28 am

    I agree with lcomments2. I think driving with cell phones in use should be made illegal, like it is in Nevada. Plain and simple. And, not even the use of hands-free should be allowed either. Case-in-point: I tried driving with a hands-free device, and since I talk with my hands, I still only had one hand on the steering wheel as I was waving around the other one. I figured that a hands free device was no better than using the phone itself, so I gave up. I don’t talk while driving. Period. My current vehicle doesn’t have a built in Bluetooth, either.

  • Diana October 23, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Instead of “Don’t drive stupid”, how about “Drive Smart, Don’t TTD (Talk, Text, Drink).” Teenage drivers needs a positive message to be safe and smart drivers and us adults and parents needs to set a good positive example for them. The smarter they can drive, the better the safety, less stressful and less/no auto crashes in St. George.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.