Teens Don't Want Driverless Cars -- And That Might Be Dangerous

This is a bigger deal than they think.

Cars of the future may drive themselves, but teenagers aren't excited to give up their keys.

A full 72 percent of American high schoolers said they don't like the idea of driverless cars and prefer "a vehicle that I can control myself," according to new research by Nielsen. That's understandable, given that a driver's license is a rite of passage to sweet open-road freedom. But their opinion might be a dangerous one.

Teen drivers are known to be unsafe. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers.

Driverless cars of the sort Google is developing are supposed to be more efficient vehiclesAdvocates say they're safer, too, despite minor accidents so far.

"The autonomous car doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs, doesn't text while driving, doesn't get road rage," Bob Lutz, former General Motors vice chairman, told CNBC in a 2014 interview.

Teenagers can do all of those things. (Duh.) As The New York Times recently pointed out, they're also liable to ride with distracting friends. And because of the myriad pressures they face academically and otherwise, a startling number of teens are sleep-deprived, which has obvious health consequences -- perhaps especially behind the wheel, where drowsy driving is a life-threatening problem. 

All this said, there are a couple of caveats to Nielsen's report.

The company's data surveyed only 1,133 kids between the ages of 8 and 18. Of them, 151 had drivers licenses when they were polled. Needless to say, while Nielsen tries to accurately represent a population, errors in the reporting are possible, and the picture may not be complete. It'll also be a while before anyone could conceivably own a driverless car. 

So, you might take the report as a cue to have a conversation about safe driving with your kid. If nothing else, the data indicate that teens may not fully understand everything they should about driver safety.

That same Times article has some tips everyone should follow. One of the best ones: Block notifications on your smartphone when you're driving. An easy way to do that is to flip your phone to the "do not disturb" setting and put it out of sight. If you absolutely must use a phone when you're driving -- for navigation, perhaps -- the only safe place, the Times reports, is in a dock attached to your dashboard, at eye level.

Stay safe.