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Teen Drivers: Get the Facts

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.1 Fortunately, teen motor vehicle crashes are preventable, and proven strategies can improve the safety of young drivers on the road.

How big is the problem?

In 2011, about 2,650 teens in the United States aged 16–19 were killed and almost 292,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes.1 That means that seven teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. 

Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population. However, they account for 30% ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28% ($7 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females.3

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Who is most at risk?

The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.2

Among teen drivers, those at especially high risk for motor vehicle crashes are:

  • Males: In 2011, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 16 to 19 was almost two times that of their female counterparts.1
  • Teens driving with teen passengers: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers.4
  • Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure.5,6

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What factors put teen drivers at risk?

  • Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations.7
  • Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next). The presence of male teenage passengers increases the likelihood of this risky driving behavior.8
  • Among male drivers between 15 and 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2012, 37% were speeding at the time of the crash9 and 25% had been drinking.10
  • Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use. In 2013, only 55% of high school students reported they always wear seat belts when riding with someone else.11
  • At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of involvement in a motor vehicle crash is greater for teens than for older drivers.12
  • In 2012, 23% of drivers aged 15 to 20 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes were drinking.10 
    • In a national survey conducted in 2013, 22% of teens reported that, within the previous month, they had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. Among students who drove, 10% reported having driven after drinking alcohol within the same one-month period.13
    • In 2012, 71% of drivers aged 15 to 20 were killed in motor vehicle crashes after drinking and driving were not wearing a seat belt.10
    • In 2012, 49% of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 53% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.2

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How can deaths and injuries resulting from crashes involving teen drivers be prevented?

There are proven methods to helping teens become safer drivers.

Seat Belts

Of the teens (aged 13-19) who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2012 approximately 55% were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.14 Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half. 15

Not Drinking & Driving

Enforcing minimum legal drinking age laws and zero blood-alcohol tolerance laws for drivers under age 21 are recommended.

Graduated Licensing Systems (GDL)

Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers' lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, puts them at heightened risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing systems, which exist in all US states and Washington, DC. Graduated driver licensing puts restrictions on new drivers; these are systematically lifted as the driver gains experience. Research suggests that the most comprehensive graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers.16  When parents know their state’s GDL laws, they can help enforce the laws and, in effect, help keep their teen drivers safe.

Eight Danger Zones

Make sure your young driver is aware of the leading causes of teen crashes:

  • Driver inexperience
  • Driving with teen passengers
  • Nighttime driving
  • Not using seat belts
  • Distracted driving
  • Drowsy driving
  • Reckless driving
  • Impaired driving

Learn what research has shown parents can do to keep teen driver safe from each of these risks.

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Additional Resources

Parents Are the Key

Parents Are the Key logoParents, pediatricians, and organizations can find more information on how to keep teens safe on the road at www.cdc.gov/ParentsAreTheKey.  There you can download a free Parent-Teen Driving Agreement and other free, customizable materials.

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References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2012). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). [Cited 2014 Sept 29].
  2. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts: teenagers 2012. Arlington (VA): The Institute; 2012 [cited 2014 Sept 29].  http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/teenagers/fatalityfacts/teenagers
  3. Finkelstein EA, Corso PS, Miller TR, Associates. Incidence and Economic Burden of Injuries in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006.
  4. Chen L, Baker SP, Braver ER, Li G. Carrying passengers as a risk factor for crashes fatal to 16- and 17-year old drivers. JAMA 2000;283(12):1578–82. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=192524
  5. Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; and Pak, A. 2003. Changes in collision rates among novice drivers during the first months of driving.Accident Analysis and Prevention 35:683-91.
  6. McCartt, A.T.; Shabanova, V.I. and Leaf, W.A. 2003. Driving experiences, crashes, and teenage beginning drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 35:311-20.
  7. Jonah BA, Dawson NE. Youth and risk: age differences in risky driving, risk perception, and risk utility. Alcohol, Drugs and Driving 1987;3:13–29.
  8. Simons-Morton B, Lerner N, Singer J. The observed effects of teenage passengers on the risky driving behavior of teenage drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2005;37(6):973-82.
  9. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Dept. of Transportation (US). Traffic safety facts 2012: Speeding. Washington (DC): NHTSA; May 2014 [cited 2014 Sept 29]. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812021.pdf
  10. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Dept. of Transportation (US). Traffic safety facts 2012: Young Drivers. Washington (DC): NHTSA; April 2014 [cited 2014 Sept 29]. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812019.pdf
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System 2013 YRBS Data User’s Guide [Online]. (2014). National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health (producer). [Cited 2014 Sept 29]. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/pdf/YRBS_2013_National_User_Guide.pdf
  12. Voas RB, Torres P, Romano E, Lacey JH. Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: an update using 2007 data. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2012 May;73(3):341-50.
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1991-2013 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. [cited 2014 Sept 29]. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
  14. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts: 2012 Occupant Protection. Washington, D.C.: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 2014. Publication no. DOT-HS-811-892. [cited 2014 Sept 8]. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811892.pdf.
  15. Kahane CJ. Injury vulnerability and effectiveness of occupant protection technologies for older occupants and women. p. 216. 2013. [cited 2014 Sept 29].  http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811766.pdf.
  16. Baker SP, Chen L, Li G. Nationwide review of graduated driver licensing. Washington (DC): AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety; 2007. http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/NationwideReviewOfGDL.pdf

 

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