Lisa Myers-Littler of Santa Rosa expects to become a licensed driver next week, hitting the road in the midst of the 100 deadliest days of the year for teen drivers, according to road safety experts.
An incoming senior at Santa Rosa High School, Myers-Littler, 17, accepts the AAA’s designation of the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day as the worst time for her under-18 cohorts to operate motor vehicles on city streets and freeways.
The evidence compiled by AAA of danger for 16- and 17-year-old drivers is compelling:
— The average number of deadly teen driver crashes goes up 15 percent during summer compared to the rest of the year.
— Over the past five years, more than 1,600 people have been killed in crashes involving teen drivers during the 100 days.
— Distractions, mainly teens using a smart phone and chatting with passengers, contribute to nearly 60 percent of deadly teen crashes.
The statistics are enough to chill a parent’s soul, but they did not startle Myers-Littler.
“A lot of teenage drivers are more focused on their phones than their surroundings,” she said, referring to time spent texting and checking social media at the wheel, both illegal under California law.
But why is it worse when school is out, she was asked this week in the midst of a driver training session with an instructor in the shotgun seat.
“Summer’s when they are texting a lot to see what their friends are doing,” Myers-Littler said, just after successfully pulling to the side of Jennings Avenue.
“Hey, I didn’t hit the curb!” she said.
Della Radtke, the instructor with John’s Driving School, said: “I can’t get the students to put their phones away for 10 minutes during class.”
But on the road, the no-phone rule is firm, she said.
Radtke also turns on music and talks freely with her students, asserting those distractions help clear their minds.
It works, Myers-Littler said. “It helps me relax.”
Besides, driving around with the radio on friends gabbing is how most teens will spend their time at the wheel.
John Paternoster, who has operated the driving school for 22 years, said the deadly pattern of teen-driving days makes sense. “They’re not in school during the day so they have more time,” he said, and on sunny days there are plenty of places for young drivers to go.
Teen drivers, age 16 to 17, have a bad record overall, according to the AAA. They are involved in 3.75 fatal crashes per 100 million miles driven, the highest of any age bracket but for people 80 and up, where the rate is 3.85 fatalities for the same number of miles driven.
The fatal crash rate for 18 and 19-year-olds is more than twice that of the safest age group, people in their 60s, according to the AAA.
In Sonoma County, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 were involved in 13 fatal collisions with 17 victims since 2012, according to CHP records.
It’s all about experience, or lack thereof, Paternoster said. That’s why California law requires that a driver under 18 must not — for the first year with a provisional license — carry passengers under 20 or drive from 11 p.m. to 5 p.m. unless they are accompanied by a licensed driver at least 25 years old.