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Progress in teenage crash risk during the last decade

Ferguson, Susan A.; Teoh, Eric R.; McCartt, Anne T.
Journal of Safety Research
2007

Objective: The purpose of the present study was to examine the most recent data on teenagers' fatal and nonfatal crashes in the United States to determine current crash rates as well as changes in crash rates during the past decade.
Methods: Data for calendar years 1996 and 2005 were extracted for fatal crashes from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and for police-reported crashes from the National Automotive Sampling System/General Estimates System. To calculate crash rates, population data were obtained from the Census Bureau, and mileage data were obtained from the 2001 National Household Travel Survey.
Results: During 2001-02, the latest year for which mileage data are available, 16 year-old drivers had higher fatal and nonfatal crash rates per mile traveled than all but the very oldest drivers. However, fewer 16 year-olds typically are licensed to drive and they drive fewer miles per year than all but the oldest drivers. Thus, their fatal and nonfatal crash rates per population in 2005 were lower than among other teenagers and among drivers 20-29. During the past decade the most progress has been made in reducing crashes among the youngest drivers. Between 1996 and 2005 both fatal and police-reported crashes per population declined about 40% for 16 year-old drivers, compared with about 25% for 17 year-old drivers and 15-19% for 18 year-old drivers. The greatest reductions for 16 year-olds occurred in nighttime crashes, alcohol-related fatal crashes, and fatal crashes involving multiple teenage passengers.
Conclusions: Substantial progress has been made in reducing fatal and nonfatal crashes per population among 16 year-old drivers. Although this study was not designed to examine the role of graduated licensing, the results are consistent with the increased presence of such laws, many of which restrict nighttime driving and driving with teenage passengers.
Impact on industry: Restrictions on nighttime driving and driving with teenage passengers should be made a part of all states' graduated licensing systems. Historically, 16 year-olds have had the highest crash risk per licensed driver and per mile traveled. Given the dramatic reductions in per population crash rates among 16 year-olds, it is possible that their per mile and per licensed driver rates also have declined and may no longer be as elevated relative to other ages. However, shortcomings in the licensed driver data and a lack of recent mileage data hamper our ability to examine these issues. If we are to continue to provide a yardstick against which we can measure progress among the youngest drivers, immediate steps need to be taken to restore the availability of reliable exposure data.