Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. In 2014, 2,270 teens ages 16-19 died in motor vehicle accidents . That is equal to six teens dying in accidents every day. Teenagers actually drive less often than all age groups, except for the oldest group of drivers, but the fatal crash rate for ages 16-19 is three times higher than drivers 20 and older.

Why is that? There are many factors to consider in fatal accident but to save lives laws like The Teenage Driver Safety Act were passed that placed certain restrictions on teenage driving however; many teenager are unaware of these laws or their consequences. While there are a number of situations that teens find themselves behind the wheel one special occasion rises above all others when it comes to teenage driving antics, prom night. 

Driving on Prom Night

Accidents can happen at any moment for teen drivers, but there are certain times when the chances of being involved in an accident are higher than others. Driving at night is more dangerous than during the day. The rate of nighttime fatal crash involvements in 2008 was almost 4 times higher for male drivers ages 16-19 than for male drivers ages 30-59.  For young females the rate was 3 times higher. The weekends are also more dangerous for teen drivers. Out of all vehicle deaths involving a teenager, 54% occurred on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Prom is a popular event that occurs on the weekend and at night. In 2013, 27% of fatal teen motor vehicle accidents occurred in April, May, and June, the peak of prom season, accounting for the deaths of 676 teenagers.  

Distracted and Dangerous Drivers

Younger drivers with less experience are worse at recognizing and responding to dangerous situations, like speeding and tailgating, compared to older drivers. Teens also engage in activities that increase their risk of danger.

Passengers- One of the primary distractions teens face while driving is the presence of other teens. The risk of crashing is 3 to 5 times higher when there are multiple passengers in vehicles driven by teenagers.  Other teens create distractions by playing loud music, talking, being rowdy, and pressuring the driver to take more risks. It is common for teenagers to drive to prom in groups significantly increasing their risk of crashing. 

Cell Phones- Cell phone use is another distraction that takes the drivers eyes off of the road and puts the occupants of the vehicle in danger. A survey taken in 2014 revealed that around 41.4% of high school students admitted to texting or emailing while driving in the last 30 days.  Many teenagers connect and communicate on prom night by texting, taking pictures, or posting to social media. For the safety of the driver and passengers cell phones should not be used while driving.

Driving Under the Influence- One of the most dangerous activities a teenage driver can take part in is driving under the influence. Young drivers are 17 times more likely to die in a car accident when they have a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit than when they have not been drinking.  These are factors that lead to accidents and are unnecessary and preventable. A substance that is showing up more often in drivers is THC (marijuana). In a survey of high school seniors 1 in 8 reported smoking marijuana before driving in the last two weeks- this rate is higher than those who reported drinking alcohol before driving.  Driving under the influence of drugs is dangerous and illegal. In 2009, 1 in 3 fatally injured drivers (with known drug test results) tested positive for drug involvement.  Driving while under the influence of drugs can slow down reaction time, alter perception, and lead to higher risk of accidents. 

The Teenage Driver Safety Act

In 2008 Arizona passed the Teenage Driver Safety Act (TDSA) for drivers under 18. One of the restrictions of the Act is a curfew from 12:00 A.M. to 5:00 A.M. for the first six months of having a license. Exceptions to the curfew include driving with a parent or legal guardian or driving to or from a school activity, place of employment, religious activity, or family emergency. The Act also restricts the number of passengers a teen driver can have. For the first six months teen drivers are not allowed to operate a vehicle with more than one passenger under 18 unless the passengers are the driver’s siblings or if the driver is seated next to a parent or legal guardian. 

If a driver is found in violation of the TDSA restrictions they can be fined $75 and have an extension of the restrictions for 30 days. A second violation equals a $100 fine and 60 day restriction. Three or more violations equal a $100 fine and a 30 day suspension (A.R.S. § 28-3174).

Arizona Laws

  • Although there are no state laws in Arizona banning the use of cell phones while driving cities may have their own laws. Phoenix and Tucson both prohibit texting while driving and include fines from $100 to $250 (Phoenix City Code 36-76.01 and Tucson City Ordinance 20-160). To know if a city has laws about cell phone use while driving it is best to check the city website. 
  • Arizona law requires that everyone in the front seat of a vehicle  wear a seatbelt (A.R.S. §28-909). The driver of the vehicle is responsible for making sure that any passenger in the front seat under the age of 16 is wearing a seatbelt. 
  • It is against the law for a person under 21 to drink alcohol. (A.R.S. §4-101 (18)).
  • It is against the law for a person under 21 to drive or be in physical control of a vehicle while there is any alcohol/spirituous liquor in their body (A.R.S. § 4-244(34)). Charges for driving under the influence can result in a class 1 misdemeanor, large fines, and a two-year license suspension.  
  • It is against the law to drive a vehicle under the influence of any intoxicating liquor, drug, or vapor releasing toxic substance (A.R.S. §28-1381). 
  • Parents/legal guardians (whoever signs the license application) are held jointly liable for the damage caused by willful misconduct of a minor when driving (A.R.S. § 28-3160).  

Driving comes with great responsibility. In order for a person to protect themselves and those around them it is best to follow a number of general principles. First, make the decision to never drink or do drugs and drive and refuse to ride with anyone who has been drinking or doing drugs. Wear a seatbelt and always follow speed limit laws. Never use a cellphone or any device while driving. Abide by the rules of Arizona’s Teenage Safe Driving Act which are in place to protect those driving from unnecessary harm. It is important to be aware of the risks of being a young driver and to act responsibly for the safety of the driver and everyone else on the road.

Laws may have changed since the last time this article was updated.  The current and most up-to-date laws can be accessed here. 



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports. June 24, 2015.
  2. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Teenagers: Fatality Facts. February 2016. fatalityfacts/teenagers.
  3. Ibid.
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Evaluations and Compliance of Passenger Restrictions in a Graduated License Program. September 2007. 810781Scr.pdf
  5. Insurance Information Institute. Teen Drivers. February 2016.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Drinking and Driving: A Dangerous Mix. October 2012. vitalsigns/teendrinkinganddriving/index.html
  7. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Teen Drugged Driving.
  8. Vehicles designed to carry 10 or more passengers or that were manufactured before 1972 are exempt from this statute. 




Read 7548 times Last modified on Monday, 26 February 2024 12:08

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