Are the stigmas surrounding teenage drivers justified?

May 24, 2019 — by Neeti Badve and Nitya Marimuthu

Earlier this semester, junior Lauren Hansen grabbed the keys to her car as she walked out the door, beginning her daily commute to school from her house in San Jose. With traffic crowding the highways, Hansen knew she would have to take her usual side roads to avoid the morning rush.

As Hansen drove, she noticed a car that was “weaving like crazy” through the traffic behind her. As the car caught up to Hansen, it swerved right in front of her, almost hitting her.

Although Hansen was shaken by the near-accident, she was not surprised. As someone who drives the back streets on a daily basis, Hansen said she has become used to reckless drivers. Despite the preconceived notion of teenage drivers being bad behind the wheel, Hansen’s experiences suggest otherwise.

“It’s not like the bad drivers are always the kids, and I think that’s something that a lot of adults fail to grasp onto,” Hansen said.

From the 1995 classic “Clueless” to scenes from “10 Things I Hate About You,” teenagers have been depicted to be unable to handle themselves with the responsibility of a license. This stands in contrast to the fact that most teenagers prove themselves capable of handling the responsibility.

Nevertheless, the school’s resource officer, sheriff’s deputy Russell Davis, described teenagers as too often speeding around with distractions like cell phones. His own experiences in law enforcement have led him to believe that teen drivers are often more dangerous than their adult counterparts.

“When you mix young age, social media, music and just having fun, you’re more likely to get in a car accident,” Davis said.

Davis said that he tends to see more teenagers than adults speeding. Throughout his time at the school, he has seen many teenagers treating driving “like a NASCAR race” and rushing around, especially during lunch.

Nationally, though, one recent statistic provided some hope that teens may be driving safer. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in 2017, a total of 2,734 teenagers aged 13-17 years old died from motor vehicle crashes as opposed to 2,837 teenagers the year before. This drop (by 4 percent) was the first since 2013. Although Davis said that many teenagers exhibit dangerous driving habits, he also said that driving skills tend to depend on each person’s maturity. “A car looks like a fun toy, but it’s really a multi-thousand-pound car,” Davis said.

Adding to the stigmas about teenage driving are the very companies insuring these drivers.

For instance, “Wrecked: Life and Death on the Road,” a pamphlet given to new drivers by Farmers Insurance, informs about the dangers of driving and symbolizes negative connotations associated with teen drivers.

Despite being published in 2000, this pamphlet is still currently in use, and the accompanying video of the same name depicts black and white images of regret-filled teenagers and dramatic filters. Although outdated, these resources are still used by insurance companies across the board.

But some teens say they are being wrongly portrayed.

Hansen recounted another instance when she was driving and a car merged so close in front of her that Hansen had to drive up the curb to avoid getting hit.

“Teen drivers are taught that we’re the danger, which can be true depending on what you do, but there are a lot of other people who are more of a danger, and we are not really taught how to react,” Hansen said.

Perceptions of teen driving also influence insurance companies, which heavily weigh age and gender when determining insurance rates.

According to, the average annual premium for a 16-year old male driver is $7,778 while the average cost for a female driver of the same age is $5,776. In comparison, for the average adult driver, car insurance would cost around $1,588. The cost difference mimics statistics in crashes and fatalities while driving.

The IIHS reports that about two of every three teenagers killed in crashes in 2017 were male. However, it also went on to say that since 1975, the number of fatalities in teenage crashes has reduced by 72 percent for males compared to 58 percent for females.

It’s also clear that not all teens are the same in their attitude and behavior behind the wheel. Though they vary depending on the agency, students who maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher or a B- average are eligible for the “good student discount.”

This discount ranges from 10 to 15 percent off a student’s car insurance premium and exists because insurance companies believe that students with higher grades exhibit a higher sense of responsibility.

Senior Matthew Kuo said that for the most part teenagers are reasonable drivers and adults tend to exaggerate stereotypes.

“While there are definitely teenagers out there who abuse their right to drive, there are teens out there who always make sure that they follow traffic rules and don’t abuse their rights,” Kuo said.

Kuo said that his main struggle when learning to drive was inexperience. As he practiced, however, he started getting used to driving, and eventually it turned into “second nature” for him.

At the end of the day, there are two sides to every story. Teen drivers seem to be just as scared of accidents and crashes as adults, if not more.

For Hansen, it is not her lack of experience that worries her. Her permit and driving test, Hansen said, did not prepare her for the real situations that drivers can experience. Hansen has experienced her share of dangerous drivers in her daily rides to school, and this is the same thing that she feared when she first began driving on her own.

“I wasn’t afraid of driving,” Hansen said. “The majority of my worries were about how I was going to be able to stay focused that long on other people.”

Hansen concedes that there have been incidents in the past that prove adults’ doubts in teenage driving; however, she does not believe that these horrible crashes or events can speak for the whole group.

“The stereotypes are justified in some ways, but a majority of the time, they just make [teenagers] look like the bad guys,” Hansen said. “In reality, we’re just all trying to get to the same place.”