Motor vehicle crash injuries are a leading cause of death and nonfatal injury among adolescents. In 2019, 43.1% of U.S. high school students did not always wear a seat belt as a passenger, and 16.7% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol during the past 30 days. Of the approximately 60% of students who drove a car during the past 30 days, 5.4% drove after drinking alcohol, and 39.0% texted or e-mailed while driving at least once during the past 30 days. Also, students engaging in one transportation risk behavior were more likely to engage in other transportation risk behaviors. Reducing risky transportation behaviors among adolescents by using proven strategies (e.g., primary enforcement seat belt laws, publicized sobriety checkpoints, and parent-teen driving agreements) can help prevent crashes, reduce injuries, and save lives.
Reducing motor vehicle crash deaths was one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century for the US. However, more than 32,000 people are killed and 2 million are injured each year from motor vehicle crashes. In 2013, the US crash death rate was more than twice the average of other high-income countries. In the US, front seat belt use was lower than in most other comparison countries. One in 3 crash deaths in the US involved drunk driving, and almost 1 in 3 involved speeding. Lower death rates in other high-income countries and a high percentage of risk factors in the US suggest that we can make more progress in reducing crash deaths. (July 6, 2016)
The percentage of teens in high school who drink and drive has decreased by more than half since 1991,* but more can be done. Nearly one million high school teens drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011. Teen drivers are 3 times more likely than more experienced drivers to be in a fatal crash. Drinking any alcohol greatly increases this risk for teens. (October 2, 2012)
*High school students aged 16 years and older who, when surveyed, said they had driven a vehicle one or more times during the past 30 days when they had been drinking alcohol.
- Shults RA, Jones JM, Komatsu KK, Sauber-Schatz EK. Alcohol and marijuana use among young injured drivers in Arizona, 2008–2014external icon. Traffic Inj Prev 2019;20(1):9–14. doi:10.1080/15389588.2018.1527032
- Li L, Shults RA, Andridge RR, Yellman MA, Xiang H, Zhu M. Texting/Emailing While Driving Among High School Students in 35 States, United States, 2015external icon. J Adolesc Health 2018;63(6):701–708. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.06.010
- Shults RA, Bergen G, Smith TJ, Cook L, Kindelberger J, West B. Characteristics of Single Vehicle Crashes with a Teen Driver in South Carolina, 2005–2008external icon. Accid Anal Prev 2019;122:325–331. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2017.08.002
- Shults RA, Williams AF. Trends in teen driver licensure, driving patterns and crash involvement in the United States, 2006–2015external icon. J Safety Res 2017;62:181–184. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2017.06.013
- Jewett A, Shults RA, Bhat G. Parental perceptions of teen driving: Restrictions, worry and influenceexternal icon. J Safety Res 2016;59:119–123. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2016.09.003
- Shults RA, Haegerich TM, Bhat G, Zhang X. Teens and seat belt use: What makes them click?external icon. J Safety Res 2016;57:19–25. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2016.03.003
- Haegerich TM, Shults RA, Oman RF, Vesely SK. The Predictive Influence of Youth Assets on Drinking and Driving Behaviors in Adolescence and Young Adulthoodexternal icon. J Prim Prev 2016;37(3):231–245. doi:10.1007/s10935-016-0418-7
- Shults RA, Banerjee T, Perry T. Who’s not driving among U.S. high school seniors: A closer look at race/ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, and driving statusexternal icon. Traffic Inj Prev 2016;17(8):803–809. doi:10.1080/15389588.2016.1161761
- Shults RA, West BA. ATV riding and helmet use among youth aged 12–17 years, USA, 2011: results from the YouthStyles surveyexternal icon. Inj Prev 2015;21:10–14. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2013-041138
- Shults RA, Williams AF. Trends in driver licensing status and driving among high school seniors in the United States, 1996–2010external icon. J Safety Res 2013;46:167–170. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2013.04.003
- Yellman MA, Bryan L, Sauber-Schatz EK, Brener N. Transportation Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019. MMWR Suppl 2020;69(Suppl-1):77–83. doi:10.15585/mmwr.su6901a9
- Shults RA, Williams AF. Graduated Driver Licensing Night Driving Restrictions and Drivers Aged 16 or 17 Years Involved in Fatal Night Crashes — United States, 2009–2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:725–730. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6529a1
- Sauber-Schatz EK, Ederer DJ, Dellinger AM, Baldwin GT. Vital Signs: Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention — United States and 19 Comparison Countries. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65(26):672–677. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6526e1
- Shults RA, Olsen EO, Williams AF. Driving Among High School Students — United States, 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2015;64(12):313–317.
Parents Are the Key, a campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), helps parents, pediatricians, and communities keep teen drivers safe on the road.
Safe Kids Worldwide report “Reducing Risks for Teen Drivers” explores how families are managing the risks new drivers face and suggests strategies that families can put into place to help keep teen drivers safe.
The Policy Impact: Teen Driver Safety brief was published in October 2010. Therefore, this web page is provided for reference purposes only. The most current CDC data can be found on the Teen Drivers: Get the Facts page.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety GDL rating system featured on the last page of the Policy Impact document is no longer in use.
Teen motor vehicle crashes are preventable. There are proven policies to improve the safety of young drivers on the road.
Download the Policy Impact: Teen Driver Safety pdf icon[PDF - 8 pages] brief to learn more.