Clark County second-deadliest for teen drivers in Washington state

Memorial Day marks the start of the 100 Deadliest Days for teen drivers

CLARK COUNTY — Memorial Day is the unofficial start of what has been dubbed the “100 Deadliest Days” for teenage drivers in America. According to AAA, crashes involving inexperienced drivers climbs 15 percent between Memorial Day and Labor Day compared to the rest of the year.

Davis Law Group put together a list of the deadliest Washington Counties for teen drivers. Photo Courtesy Davis Law Group
Davis Law Group put together a list of the deadliest Washington Counties for teen drivers. Photo Courtesy Davis Law Group

Here in Washington State, the Davis Law Group out of Seattle has compiled a list of the deadliest counties for teen drivers. Tiny Asotin County, in the far southeast corner of the state, tops the list, with just over 19 percent of crashes involving a serious injury or fatality between 2013 and 2017 involving a teenaged driver. Next up is Clark County, at just over 17 percent.


Advice for teen drivers

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has the following advice to help keep kids safer on the road, especially during the Summer months:

  • Have conversations with your teens early and often about distraction and speeding.
  • Teach by example and minimize risky behavior when driving.
  • Make a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules for teen drivers.
  • You can find more tips and advice at TeenDriving.AAA.com

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers between 16 and 17 years of age are nearly four times more likely to be involved in a crash than someone who is 18, and 2.6 times more likely to be involved in a deadly crash.

Mischelle Davis, director of operations for Davis Law Group, is also the chair of the Washington State chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She says in years past kids often had a job during the Summer when they weren’t in school. Increasingly those jobs have either gone away, or kids are just less likely to seek them out.

“There’s just more fooling around,” she says. “There’s certainly more drinking. But even without the drinking piece, there’s just way more serious accidents and fatalities involving teens in the Summer months because those teens, instead of being in school, are on the road. They’re ‘cruising’.”

This map shows which counties are the deadliest for teenage drivers in Washington. Photo courtesy Davis Law Group
This map shows which counties are the deadliest for teenage drivers in Washington. Photo courtesy Davis Law Group

The fact that many of the higher numbers of serious crashes involving teens happens in rural areas seems to back some of that up. Davis says in the city it’s harder to find places where you can get up to the kinds of speeds teenagers in groups seem to like to drive.

“When I look back on the stupid driving that I was in the car for, you know somebody was speeding or whatever, that was on those rural roads,” she says. “Places where they could put the pedal to the medal, so to speak.”

More recent psychological studies show that key parts of a teenager’s brain are still in development, meaning they process emotions differently than adults. That increases the odds of teenagers engaging in risky behavior, especially in groups of their peers. That might also explain the much higher use of drugs or alcohol in younger drivers.

According to Washington State’s Department of Transportation, which tracks accident statistics statewide, Clark County had 21 serious or fatal accidents involving drugs since 2013. Of those, 48 percent involved someone between the ages of 16 and 25. In the four years before marijuana was legal in Washington State, there were 18 drug-related serious crashes, with only four involving a young driver.

While it’s still early, Davis says there’s increasing concern that the state’s move to legalize marijuana could be leading more teenagers to get behind the wheel while under the influence. “I was in a meeting two or three years ago where (they said) the drugged-and-drunk and drugged number had surpassed the drunk-only fatality number.”

The AAA study found that distraction played a role in nearly six out of 10 crashes involving teens, with the top culprits being passengers and using a smartphone behind the wheel. 60 percent of teens involved in a serious injury crash in 2015 (the most recent year data is available) were also not wearing a seatbelt. Excessive speed was a factor nearly 30 percent of the time.

It’s something Davis says often doesn’t hit home for kids unless they’ve been affected by a deadly crash themselves. She lost a classmate in high school to a deadly crash, and watched two other students who were in the same car struggle with a lifetime of pain as a result.

“That is still in super sharp focus for me, because these are my classmates,” she says. “Unfortunately for a lot of kids, unless they know somebody, or they can somehow link it directly to themselves, it’s just a number.”

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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