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5 major risk factors for teen drivers

Your teen, along with his or her friends, can legally get a driver's license at 16. That may feel way too young to you; as a parent, you still feel like it was only yesterday that you brought that little baby home from the hospital. But lawmakers have decided that 16-year-olds are mature enough to handle these 3,000-pound machines.

Unfortunately, teen drivers do pose a lot of risks, primarily because they do not have experience behind the wheel. Some would argue that they're not as ready to drive as lawmakers believe they are.

Realize that car accidents are the main reason for unintentional injuries and death for children in almost every age group. The only exception is infants under a year old. Young children who can't drive tend to pass away at about the same rate between the ages of 1 and 14. For the age group from 15 to 19, though, the death rate increases sixfold.

So, what risk factors make it more likely that your child will be involved in a serious accident, even one caused by a friend who is behind the wheel?

1. Gender

Male children die at nearly twice the rate of female children. Reports show that 19 out of every 100,000 young men die, while just 10 out of every 100,000 young women die.

2. Seat belts

Despite what they get taught in driver's training, many teens do not wear their seat belts every time they get into a vehicle. Most adults (82 percent) do so, but only 47 percent of teens made the same claim.

3. The number of teens in the car

The odds of an accident go up for every single individual in the vehicle. A teen driver with three friends riding along is four times as likely to get in a wreck as a teen driver alone.

4. Speed

Speeding increases the risk of an accident for any driver, but it's especially notable with teens. Part of this could be inexperience, as they do not recognize when they're on the edge of going out of control.

5. Night driving

Driving at night challenges young drivers. Teens who are 16 or 17 years old are three times less likely to crash during the day than they are at night.

What you also need to remember is that many factors may come into play at once. The odds of a crash are very high for a group of teens traveling at night and driving over the speed limit -- especially if the driver is a young man.

If you or your child gets injured in an accident caused by another teen, make sure you know what legal options you have.

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