Nightly News   |  October 14, 2011

Teen drivers likelier to crash in first month of driving

New AAA research shows teen drivers are 50 percent more likely to crash in the first month of driving without a parent in the car, than after a full year of driving. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: It's a rite of passage. Just about anyone who's raised teenagers can relate to that here-we-go moment, when they first get behind the wheel of a car. Auto accidents remain the leading cause of death for American teenagers, and tonight there's new research into how and when things are likely to take a dangerous turn. Our report from NBC 's Tom Costello .

TOM COSTELLO reporting: The latest AAA Foundation drive cam video underscores how distraction and inexperience are the consistent problem factors in teenage driving. From loud music and a missed stop sign to texting with mom in the car.

Unidentified Woman #1: Don't text while you're driving.

COSTELLO: Speeding through a school zone.

Unidentified Woman #2: Whoa! Don't hit me, car.

COSTELLO: Talking on the phone, driving down the middle of the road , even unbuckling and reaching for a bag while making a turn. Now new AAA research shows that teens are 50 percent more likely to have a crash in the first month of driving without a parent on board than they are after driving with a full year of experience.

Mr. PETER KISSINGER (AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety): But as soon as that parent leaves the car and the child starts driving by themselves, the risks jump up dramatically.

Mr. CHUCK ATTOTI: Take it easy on the corner.

LEAH: I am.

COSTELLO: AAA 's cameras followed 38 teens from permit to full license. Chuck Attoti saved his daughter, Leah , from a very serious accident.

Mr. ATTOTI: Whoa! Stop! Hit your brakes!

LEAH: Daddy, what were they doing?

Mr. ATTOTI: They completely ran a red light .

LEAH: Can I go?

Mr. ATTOTI: Go now. Go now. Completely ran a red light .

COSTELLO: Today all 50 states and DC ease teens into the driver's seat with graduated drivers licenses, usually including restrictions on nighttime driving and passengers, with full driving privileges coming at the age of 16 in some states, 17 and 18 in others. Something's working. Teen driving related fatalities have dropped from 6100 in 2002 to 2800 in 2009 . Miami-Dade police Sergeant David Greenwell investigates fatal accidents.

Sergeant DAVID GREENWELL: Just inattention to driving for a few seconds could cost you your life or could cost someone else's life.

COSTELLO: The lesson learned is that, behind the wheel, there is no substitute for experience. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.