I-TEAM: Are crashes involving teens on the rise in CT?

Crashes involving teen drivers are going up
Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 6:54 PM EDT
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(WFSB) - Now to an I-Team Investigation: Data shows that crashes involving teenagers are moving in the wrong direction.

Just last month 5 children were killed in a fiery crash in Westchester County.

Chief Investigative Reporter Sam Smink looked into what and who might be causing these accidents.

“Learning how to walk again was probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life:”

Elias Feliciano never thought he would drive a car again, let alone work on one, following a crash in 2006.

”I was in the hospital, I was in a coma. I ended up having to relearn how to walk, talk, read, write, run, jump all over again,” says Feliciano.

Feliciano was 17 years old.

“I was speeding, young dumb and reckless, speeding and I veered over into the oncoming lane and crashed head on with another woman,” says Feliciano. “If the woman I hit is watching, I want her to know it still bothers me to this day that I hurt an innocent person because of the decision I made to drive fast. I think of it all the time.”

Both luckily survived.

”My father always told me, you got to drive safe, drive safe and you know I was young, cocky, arrogant. And didn’t want to listen,” says Feliciano.

Others have not been so lucky.

Just last month, 5 children, ages 8 to 17 years old, were killed in a crash in New York as they were driving back to Derby.

Police say the 16-year-old driver did not have a permit or a license.


The I-Team wanted to know often are teen drivers getting into crashes and are they following the law when they do?

Working with data from the CT Transportation Institute, the I-Team found between 2015 and now:

There have been over 16,000 crashes involving young drivers up to the age of 18, resulting in injuries or death. 129 of the crashes were fatal.

More than 1800 of the teen drivers didn’t have a license.

Even more shocking, almost 300 crashes involved 10 to 15 year olds.

“Some of those are either young drivers that have either stolen a car or gotten in their parents car and driven away. Potentially teens that got into the car and knocked it into gear and the car rolled out into the roadway,” says Eric Jackson, the Executive Director of CT’s Transportation Institute. “Driver behavior overall has gotten really really bad.”


When it comes to teens, a lot of what is happening out on the roads now is what the Institute sees with their driving simulator.

“After the initial shock of how cool it is to be able to drive, we typically see teens start doing typically what you see with a video game. They start speeding, they start doing donuts, they start driving how you would expect them to do if there were no consequences to their actions,” says Jackson.

In the real world, it’s a mixture of speeding and distracted driving that’s causing the crashes.

“A lot of it is either distracted by passengers in their car with them or teens will do things in their car when they have a passenger, another fellow teen, they wouldn’t do if they were in a car by themselves,” says Jackson. “Some of it is kind of showing off or some of that is just the thrill seeking that comes with learning how to drive and being on the roadway by yourself.”

That’s why Jackson says the state created the graduated driver licensing, or GDL, program in 2008.

Under the program, 16- and 17-year-old drivers must go through a combined 70 hours of classroom and on-the-road training.

And follow strict rules like: no driving from 11 pm - 5 am (with exceptions) and no passengers for 6 months (with exceptions).

“There’s restrictions on teens - hours of the days that they can drive - whether or not they can have passengers in their car with them - it really kind of restricts some of the distractions and the bad behaviors,” says Jackson. “Trying to get to those drivers as they’re first learning how to drive and starting to promote good behaviors and good habits while they’re in the learning process.”

Jackson says when the GDL program went into effect, teen crashes went down.

“What we’ve noticed is prior to the GDL going in, there were around 30 teenagers a year killed in crashes and we’ve reduced that to under ten,” says Jackson.

Until about 2 years ago.


He says the data he studies not only shows more teen crashes, but more crashes involving drivers who get their licenses at 18 or 19.

“We’re seeing that shift in people delaying when they get their driver’s license and it’s kind of having an unintended consequence,” says Jackson.

Once you turn 18, you don’t have to go through GDL training, meaning those older drivers are much less experienced than those who started driving earlier.

”Now they get their license and they’re out on the roadway and they don’t have those GDL laws that are guiding their mobility and their ability to drive,” says Jackson.

Jackson says one way to combat the issue? Possibly extending the age of those needing to take driver’s education.

“There are states that are now looking at making that GDL go from 18-19 so including those drivers that have delayed their driver’s licenses and get around the GDL laws,” says Jackson.

The GDL program didn’t exist when Feliciano started driving.

If it had, his crash might never have happened. He wants teens to learn from his mistakes.

“You’re not Superman. Life is precious, all it takes is one wrong move and you’re done,” says Feliciano.


The state is also looking toward adopting more automated traffic enforcement, things like speeding cameras and red-light running cameras.

“People are doing things on the roadway that they never would have done in the past primarily because enforcement is down as well so there’s no fear of being caught by police by either speeding or driving aggressively on the roadways,” says Jackson.

“We’ve had conversations recently with CT DOT about some of the advertisements that are out there. It seems within the US, we don’t show some of the graphic nature or graphic outcomes that could come as part of a crash. In Europe and some of the other countries outside of the US, they’re very graphic in terms of their transportation safety message that’s coming out. The DOT is starting to look at stepping up maybe some of the cringe factors you have from some of those public service announcements that are out there,” says Jackson. “Really trying to drive home the fact that these are serious events and they can cost you your life if you’re not paying attention or you’re doing things above and beyond what the law states.”

And as we approach what AAA calls the “100 deadliest days,” the period between Memorial and Labor Day when fatal teen crashes increase, remember to drive safely and follow the law.

Parental involvement is encouraged, says Jackson. “We’re still seeing teens driving that are still kind of driving when they shouldn’t be. That kind of comes down to parents being able to police their children and make sure their children aren’t out driving when they shouldn’t be or don’t have siblings in their car. We understand it’s a little bit of an inconvenience for you know a 17 year old to not be able to drive their 16 year old child or sibling to school or to sports events. We understand that’s an inconvenience but at the same time, the law is really there to improve safety and limit the exposure teens have to being involved in a serious crash.”