Teen Drivers: Get the Facts

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

The Problem

How big is the problem?

In 2017, 2,364 teens in the United States aged 16-19 were killed, and about 300,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes.1 That means six teens aged 16-19 died every day due to motor vehicle crashes, and hundreds more were injured.

In 2017, young people aged 15-19 represented 6.5% of the U.S. population. However, motor vehicle injuries, both fatal and nonfatal, among young people in this age group represented about $13.1 billion, or almost 8%, of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.1,3

Risk Groups

Who is most at risk?

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

Teens who are at especially high risk for motor vehicle crashes are:

  • Male
    • In 2017, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers aged 16-19 was over two times higher than the death rate for female drivers of the same age.2
  • Teens driving with teen passengers
    • The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with increased numbers of teen passengers.4,5
  • Newly licensed teens
    • Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure.6,7 Data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey indicate that the crash rate per mile driven is 1.5 times higher for 16-year-olds than it is for 18-19 year-olds.2
Risk Factors

What factors put teen drivers at risk?

Inexperience:
  • Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate or not be able to recognize dangerous situations.8 Teens are also more likely than adults to make critical decision errors that lead to serious crashes.9
Speeding:
  • 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).10
Seat Belt Use:
  • Compared with other age groups, teens and young adults often have the lowest seat belt use rates.11 In 2017, only 58.8% of high school students always wore seat belts when riding as passengers.12
  • Among young drivers aged 15-20 who died in car crashes in 2017, almost half were unrestrained at the time of the crash (when restraint use was known).13
Alcohol Use:
  • Any amount of alcohol increases the risk of crashes among teens as compared with older drivers.14
  • In the 2017 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 16.5% of high school students had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol within the previous month.15 Among students who drove, 5.5% drove when they had been drinking alcohol during the 30 days before the survey.15
  • Drinking alcohol is illegal under the age of 21; therefore, so is drinking and driving. Despite this, in 2017, 15% of drivers aged 16-20 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of .08% or higher (a level that is illegal for adults aged 21 and older in all states, except Utah, which has a BAC limit of .05).16
  • In 2017, 58% of drivers aged 15-20 who were killed in motor vehicle crashes after drinking and driving were not wearing a seat belt (based on known restraint use).13
  • Among male drivers aged 15-20 who were involved in fatal crashes in 2017, 31% were speeding at the time of the crash17 and 20% had been drinking.13
Nighttime and Weekend Driving:
  • In 2017, 40% of motor vehicle crash deaths among teen drivers and passengers aged 13-19 occurred between 9 pm and 6 am, and 51% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.2
Prevention
Buckle up. Every Person. Every Time. www.cdc.gov/parentsaretheykey

Eight Danger Zones

Make sure you and your young driver are aware of the leading causes of teen crashes:

  1. Driver inexperience
  2. Driving with teen passengers
  3. Nighttime driving
  4. Not using seat belts
  5. Distracted driving
  6. Drowsy driving
  7. Reckless driving
  8. Impaired driving

There are proven methods to help teens become safer drivers. Learn what research has shown parents can do to keep teen drivers safe from each of these risks.

Seat Belts Save Lives

At least 46% of teen drivers and passengers who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2017 were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.2 Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.18

Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Laws

States vary in their enforcement of seat belt laws. A primary enforcement seat belt law allows police officers to ticket drivers or passengers for not wearing a seat belt, even if this is the only violation that has occurred. A secondary enforcement seat belt law allows police officers to ticket drivers or passengers for not wearing a seat belt only if they have pulled over the driver for another reason. Some states have secondary enforcement of seat belt laws for adults, but have primary enforcement seat belt laws for young drivers. Seat belt use among all age groups is consistently higher in states with primary enforcement seat belt laws than in states with secondary seat belt enforcement laws.18,19,20 Visit the seat belts pageexternal icon on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website for up-to-date information on seat belt laws by state, including the type of enforcement and who is covered. 21 Use CDC’s MV PICCS to learn about how many lives could be saved, injuries prevented, and costs averted if your state were to implement a primary enforcement seat belt law.22

Not Drinking & Driving Prevents Crashes

Enforcing minimum legal drinking age laws and zero blood-alcohol tolerance laws for drivers under age 21 is recommended to help prevent drinking and driving among young drivers.23

Graduated Driver Licensing Systems Reduce Fatal Crashes

Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers’ lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, heightens their risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems. Although varied, GDL systems exist in all U.S. states and Washington, D.C. GDL systems provide longer practice periods, limit driving under high-risk conditions for newly licensed drivers, and require greater participation from parents as their teens learn to drive. Research suggests that more comprehensive GDL systems are associated with 26%24 to 41%25 reductions in fatal crashes and 16%26 to 22%27 reductions in overall crashes among 16-year-old drivers. Parents can help their teen be safer by knowing and following their state’s GDL laws. Check out the graduated licensing laws by state pageexternal icon on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website to learn more about your state’s GDL laws.2

CDC’s GDL Planning Guide can assist states in assessing, developing, and implementing actionable plans to strengthen GDL practices.

Additional Resources
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System). US Department of Health and Human Services; September 2019. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html. Accessed 2–3 October 2019.
  2. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality Facts 2017: Teenagers. Highway Loss Data Institute; December 2018. Available at https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/teenagersexternal icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  3. US Census Bureau, Population Division. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Single Year of Age and Sex for the United States, States, and Puerto Rico Commonwealth: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017. 2017 Population Estimates. Released June 2018. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  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):1578–1582.
  5. Ouimet MC, Pradhan AK, Brooks-Russell A, et al. Young drivers and their passengers: a systematic review of epidemiological studies on crash risk. Journal of Adolescent Health 2015;57(1 Suppl):S24-35.
  6. Mayhew DR, Simpson HM, Pak A. Changes in collision rates among novice drivers during the first months of driving. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2003;35:683-91.
  7. McCartt AT, Shabanova VI, Leaf WA. Driving experiences, crashes, and teenage beginning drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2003;35:311-320.
  8. 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.
  9. McDonald CC, Curry AE, Kandadai V, et al. Comparison of teen and adult driver crash scenarios in a nationally representative sample of serious crashes. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2014;72:302-308.
  10. 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):973-982.
  11. Enriquez, J. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Occupant Restraint Use in 2018: Results From the NOPUS Controlled Intersection Study (Report No. DOT HS 812 781). US Department of Transportation; August 2019. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812781external icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System ‒ 2017 YRBS Data User’s Guide. National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health; June 2018. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/2017_YRBS_Data_Users_Guide.pdf. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  13. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2017: Young Drivers (Report No. DOT HS 812 753). US Department of Transportation; May 2019. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812753external icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  14. Voas RB, Torres P, Romano E, et al. Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: an update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2012;73(3):341-350.
  15. Kann L, McManus T, Harris WA, et al. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Surveillance Summary. 2018;67(No. SS-8):1–114.
  16. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2017: Alcohol-Impaired Driving (Report No. DOT HS 812 630). US Department of Transportation; November 2018. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812630external icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  17. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2017: Speeding (Report No. DOT HS 812 687). US Department of Transportation; May 2019. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812687external icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  18. Kahane CJ. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Lives saved by vehicle safety technologies and associated Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, 1960 to 2012–Passenger cars and LTVs–With reviews of 26 FMVSS and the effectiveness of their associated safety technologies in reducing fatalities, injuries, and crashes. (Report No. DOT HS 812 069). US Department of Transportation; January 2015. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812069external icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  19. Richard CM, Magee K, Bacon-Abdelmoteleb P, et al. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasure guide for State Highway Safety Offices, Ninth edition (Report No. DOT HS 812 478). US Department of Transportation; April 2019. Available at: https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/812478_countermeasures-that-work-a-highway-safety-countermeasures-guide-.pdfpdf iconexternal icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  20. Nichols JL, Tippetts AS, Fell JC, et al. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Strategies to Increase Seat Belt Use: An Analysis of Levels of Fines and the Type of Law (Report No. DOT HS 811 413). US Department of Transportation; November 2010. Available at: https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/811413.pdfpdf iconexternal icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  21. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Seat belts. Highway Loss Data Institute; May 2019. Available at https://www.iihs.org/topics/seat-belts#lawsexternal icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  22. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). Motor Vehicle Prioritizing Interventions and Cost Calculator for States (MV PICCS). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). US Department of Health and Human Services; March 2019. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/calculator/index.html. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  23. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem. The National Academies Press; 2018. Available at: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24951/getting-to-zero-alcohol-impaired-driving-fatalities-a-comprehensive-approachexternal icon. Accessed 3 October 2019.
  24. Masten SV, Foss R, Marshall S. Graduated driver licensing and fatal crashes involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers. JAMA 2011; 306, 1099-1103.
  25. McCartt AT, Teoh ER, Fields M, et al. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: a national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 2010;11:240-248.
  26. Russell KF, Vandermeer B, Hartling L. Graduated driver licensing for reducing motor vehicle crashes among young drivers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011;10:CD003300.
  27. Zhu M, Cummings P, Chu H, et al. Graduated licensing and motor vehicle crashes involving teenage drivers: an age-stratified meta-analysis. Morgantown, WV: Department of Community Medicine and Injury Control Research Center, West Virginia University.