August 2014

  1. How serious is the teenage motor vehicle crash problem?

    In 2012, 2,823 teenagers (ages 13-19) died in the United States from crash injuries. Such injuries are by far the leading cause of death in this age group. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 2012. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), 2010 fatal injury data. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html. The crash risk among teenage drivers is particularly high during the first months of licensure. 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(5):683-91. McCartt, A.T.; Shabanova, V.I.; and Leaf, W.A. 2003. Driving experience, crashes, and teenage beginning drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 35(3):311-20. Masten, S.V. and Foss, R.D. 2010. Long-term effect of the North Carolina graduated driver licensing system on licensed driver crash incidence: A 5-year survival analysis. Accident Analysis and Prevention 42(6):1647-52.

    Seventy-nine percent of teenagers killed in crashes in 2012 were passenger vehicle occupants. The others were pedestrians (10 percent), motorcyclists (5 percent), bicyclists (3 percent), riders of all-terrain vehicles (1 percent), and people in other kinds of vehicles (2 percent). Fifty-four percent of the teenagers who died in passenger vehicles were drivers and 46 percent were passengers. Fifty-four percent of the teenage passenger deaths occurred in vehicles driven by another teenager.

  2. How do teenage crash rates compare with rates among drivers of other ages?

    Teenagers drive less than all but the oldest people, but their numbers of crashes and crash deaths are disproportionately high. The fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-17 year-olds is about 3 times the rate for drivers 20 and older. Based on police-reported crashes of all severities, the crash rate for 16-19 year-olds also is about 3 times the rate for drivers 20 and older. Risk is highest at age 16. The crash rate per mile driven is 3 times as high for 16 year-olds as it is for 18-19 year-olds. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 2013. Unpublished analysis of data from the 2008 National Household Travel Survey. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    A study that closely monitored the driving behavior of newly licensed teenage drivers and their parents found that the teenagers’ crash and near-crash rates were nearly 4 times the rates of adults during the 18 months following licensure. Simons-Morton, B.G.; Ouimet, M.C.; Zhang, Z.; Klauer, S.E.; Lee, S.E.; Wang, J.; Albert, P.S.; and Dingus, T.A. 2011. Crash and risky driving involvement among novice adolescent drivers and their parents. American Journal of Public Health 101(12):2362-7.

  3. How do crashes involving teenage drivers differ from those of drivers their parents' age?

    Fatal crashes of teenage drivers are more likely to be attributed to driver error compared with the crashes of adults ages 30-59. Teenagers' fatal crashes also are more likely to involve speeding and to be single-vehicle crashes.

    Percentage of passenger vehicle driver involvements in fatal crashes
    with specific crash characteristics, by driver age, 2012

     Driver age
    Crash characteristics1617181930-59
    Driver error7163605841
    Driver speeding3933323018
    Single vehicle4946484940

    Teenagers do more of their driving at night than other drivers, and their rate of fatal nighttime crash involvements is higher than the rate for adults age 30-59 (12 vs. 4 crashes per 100 million miles driven). Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 2013. Unpublished analysis of data from the 2008 National Household Travel Survey. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A review of research on the effects of passengers found consistent evidence that the presence of passengers increases crash risk among teenage drivers but decreases crash risk among drivers ages 30 and older. Williams, A.F.; Ferguson, S.A.; and McCartt, A.T. 2007. Passenger effects on teenage driving and opportunities for reducing the risks of such travel. Journal of Safety Research 38(4):381-90.

  4. Why is teenage crash involvement so high?

    Young drivers tend to overestimate their own driving abilities and, at the same time, underestimate the dangers on the road. An Institute research review confirmed that age and experience both have strong effects on teenage drivers' crash risk. McCartt, A.T.; Mayhew, D.R.; Braitman, K.A.; Ferguson, S.A.; and Simpson, H.M. 2009. Effects of age and experience on young driver crashes: review of recent literature. Traffic Injury Prevention 10(3):209-19. Crash rates for young drivers are high largely because of their immaturity combined with driving inexperience. The immaturity is apparent in young drivers' risky driving practices such as speeding. At the same time, teenagers' lack of experience behind the wheel makes it difficult for them to recognize and respond to hazards. They get in trouble trying to handle unusual driving situations, and these situations turn disastrous more often than when older people drive.

  5. How are teenagers' crash rates changing over time?

    The number of teenagers (ages 13-19) who died in motor vehicle crashes was 8,748 in 1975 and 2,823 in 2012, a decline of 68 percent. Between 1996, when the first three-stage graduated driver licensing program was implemented in the United States, and 2012, teenage crash deaths declined by 51 percent (from 5,819 to 2,823).

    Teenage driver crash involvements per population also have declined since 1996, and the largest declines occurred for 16 year-olds. McCartt, A.T. and Teoh, E.R. 2014. Tracking progress in teenage crash risks in the United States since the advent of graduated driver licensing programs. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Between 1996 and 2012 fatal crashes per population fell 74 percent for 16 year-olds, 64 percent for 17 year-olds, 56 percent for 18 year-olds, and 45 percent for 19 year-olds. During the same period, police-reported crashes per population fell 65 percent for 16 year-olds, 50 percent for 17 year-olds, 43 percent for 18 year-olds, and 35 percent for 19 year-olds.

  6. What requirements do states have for teenagers learning to drive?

    All 50 states and the District of Columbia have graduated licensing systems, although the systems vary in strength. In most U.S. jurisdictions, the policies apply only to license applicants younger than 18. There are three stages in a graduated system; a supervised learner's period; an intermediate license, which is granted after a young driver passes a road test and which limits driving in high-risk situations (e.g., at nighttime or with teen passengers) except under supervision; and a license with full privileges.

    As recently as 1995, there were far fewer restrictions on teen licensing. At that time, only 29 states and the District of Columbia required a learner's permit, and only 11 required the permit to be held for a minimum period ranging from 14 to 90 days. Williams, A.F.; Weinberg, K.; Fields, M.; and Ferguson, S.A. 1996. Current requirements for getting a drivers license in the United States. Journal of Safety Research 27(2):93-101.

  7. Is graduated driver licensing effective?

    The most effective policies on teen drivers address crash risk factors (e.g., night driving and passenger restrictions) or limit teenagers' driving exposure (e.g., higher ages for initial licensure). Graduated licensing, designed to provide beginning drivers with an opportunity to gain experience behind the wheel under conditions that minimize risk, was introduced in New Zealand in 1987. All U.S. states have introduced elements of graduated licensing. Evaluations of graduated licensing systems in U.S. states and Canadian provinces have shown they reduce crashes substantially. Shope, J.T. 2007. Graduated driver licensing: review of evaluation results since 2002. Journal of Safety Research 38(2):165-75. Williams, A.F.; Tefft, B.C.; and Grabowski, J.G. 2012. Graduated driver licensing research, 2010-present. Journal of Safety Research 43(3):195-203. A pair of national studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute found that strong restrictions on nighttime driving and teenage passengers, as well as delayed licensing age, reduce fatal crashes and insurance losses for teenage drivers. McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: a national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11(3):240-8. Trempel, R.E. 2009. Graduated licensing laws and insurance collision claim frequencies of teenage drivers. Highway Loss Data Institute. Arlington, VA. In addition, the studies found that delaying permit age reduces fatal crashes and that increasing practice hours reduces insurance losses. This research helped guide the Institute and Highway Loss Data Institute in developing an online calculator to show the safety gains individual states could achieve by adopting some or all of the most beneficial graduated licensing provisions in effect today.

  8. What else can be done to reduce teenagers' high crash rates?

    Parents make many of the important decisions about their teenagers’ driving, including when they will get a license and what type of car they drive. In-vehicle monitoring devices have the potential to help engage parents more fully in supervising their children’s driving and to keep young drivers safer when their parents are not in the vehicle. The devices monitor driving and can give feedback to teenagers or their parents. An Institute study of the effects of an in-vehicle monitoring system on teenagers’ driving behaviors found that seat belt use improved when violations were reported to parents, and improved even more when in-vehicle alerts were activated. Farmer, C.M.; Kirley, B.B.; and McCartt, A.T. 2010. Effects of in-vehicle monitoring on the driving behavior of teenagers. Journal of Safety Research 41(1):39-45. Consistent reductions in speeding were achieved only when teenagers received alerts, believed their speeding behavior would not be reported to parents if corrected, and when parents were being notified of such behavior. Another study reported that immediate visual feedback to teenagers on their risky driving behavior, coupled with feedback to parents, reduced risky driving. Simons-Morton, B.G.; Bingham, C.R.; Ouimet, M.C.; Pradhan, A.K.; Chen, R.; Barretto, A.; and Shope, J.T. 2013. The effect on teenage risky driving of feedback from a safety monitoring system: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Adolescent Health, in press.  However, the feedback to teenagers alone did not. Both studies concluded that monitoring technologies can reduce risky driving behaviors but cannot substitute for parental involvement.

  9. Do teens drive the safest vehicles?

    When teenagers begin driving, most parents don’t purchase new cars for them. Instead, teens drive vehicles their families already own. This was the case for more than half of the teenagers whose parents were surveyed by the Institute in 2014. In comparison, 43 percent were driving vehicles purchased when the teens began driving or afterward, the national survey found. Eichelberger, A.H.; Teoh, E.R.; and McCartt, A.T. 2014. Vehicle choices for teenage drivers: a national survey of parents. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A large majority of purchased vehicles were used (83 percent), and the median cost of purchased vehicles was $5,300. The survey also found that many teenagers were driving older model-year vehicles, which are less likely to be equipped with key safety features, or minicars or small cars, which provide less protection in a crash than larger vehicles.  

    A separate Institute study showed that teenagers killed in crashes were more likely than middle-age drivers to have been driving small vehicles and older vehicles. McCartt, A.T. and Teoh, E.R. 2014. Type, size, and age of vehicles driven by teenage drivers killed in crashes during 2008-12. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Although teenagers are at greater risk of crashing than adults regardless of the vehicle they drive, an analysis of insurance collision claim rates showed this risk is exacerbated when teenagers drive sports cars or small vehicles. Highway Loss Data Institute. 2014. Young teen crash risk by vehicle type. HLDI Bulletin 31(4).

  10. What are the recommended vehicles for teen drivers?

    Teenagers should drive vehicles that reduce their chance of crashing in the first place and then protect them from injury in case they do crash.  To help parents choose safer vehicles, the Institute has compiled a list of recommended affordable used vehicles for teenagers based on several guiding principles:

    • Young drivers should stay away from high-horsepower models, which could encourage them to speed. 
    • Bigger, heavier vehicles provide better protection in a crash than smaller, lighter vehicles, so there are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list.
    • Electronic stability control (ESC) is a must. It substantially reduces fatal crash risk due to loss of control of the vehicle. 
    • Vehicles should have the best crash test ratings possible. At a minimum, the recommended vehicles have a good rating in the Institute’s moderate overlap front crash test, an acceptable rating in the side crash test, and 4 or 5 stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    See recommended used vehicles for teenagers starting under $20,000.

  11. Do driver education programs make teenagers safer?

    Formal evaluations of U.S. high school driver education programs indicate little or no reduction in crashes per licensed driver. Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; Williams, A.F.; and Ferguson, S.A. 1998. Effectiveness and role of driver education and training in a graduated licensing system. Journal of Public Health Policy 19(1):51-67. Vernick, J.S.; Guohua, L.; Ogaitis, S.; Mackenzie, E.J.; Baker, S.P.; and Gielen, A.C. 1999. Effects of high school driver education on motor vehicle crashes, violations, and licensure. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 16(Supple 1):40-6. Other school-based programs, such as those intended to reduce alcohol-impaired driving, have not been shown to be effective, at least in the short term. Williams, A.F. 1994. The contribution of education and public information to reducing alcohol-impaired driving. Alcohol, Drugs, and Driving 10(3-4):197-202. There is evidence that skid control training and other kinds of advanced skill training increase crash risk, particularly among young males. Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; Williams, A.F.; and Ferguson, S.A. 1998. Effectiveness and role of driver education and training in a graduated licensing system. Journal of Public Health Policy 19(1):51-67. Christie, R. 2001. The effectiveness of driver training as a road safety measure: a review of the literature. Victoria, Australia: Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. Williams, A.F. and Ferguson, S.A. 2004. Driver education renaissance? Injury Prevention 10(1):4-7.  Authors of the relevant studies have suggested that young drivers trained in these skills become overconfident in their ability, leading them to take unnecessary risks.

  12. Is alcohol an important factor in teenagers' crashes?

    Yes. Young drivers are less likely than adults to drive after drinking alcohol, but their crash risk is substantially higher when they do. This is especially true at low and moderate blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) and is thought to result from the relative inexperience of young drivers with drinking, with driving, and with combining the two. Mayhew, D.R.; Donelson, A.C.; Beirness, D.J.; and Simpson, H.M. 1986. Youth, alcohol, and relative risk of crash involvement.Accident Analysis and Prevention 18(4):273-87. At the same BAC, drivers ages 16-20 are far more likely than older drivers to get into a fatal or nonfatal crash. Peck, R.C.; Gebers, M.A.; Voas, R.B.; and Romano, E. 2008. The relationship between blood alcohol concentration (BAC), age, and crash risk. Journal of Safety Research 39(3):311-9. Voas, R.B.; Torres, P.; Romano, E.; and Lacey, J.H. 2012. Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: an update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 73(3):341-50.

    Among teenage passenger vehicle drivers (16-19 years old) who were fatally injured in 2012, 27 percent of males and 15 percent of females had high BACs (0.08 percent or higher), even though every state has a legal minimum alcohol purchasing age of 21 and a zero BAC threshold for teenage drivers. The percentage with high BACs was much lower among 16-17-year-old drivers (15 percent) than among 18-19-year-old drivers (26 percent).

July 2014

  1. What is graduated driver licensing?

    Graduated driver licensing (GDL) is a system to phase in young beginners to full driving privileges. Because of their inexperience behind the wheel, novice drivers may struggle with hazardous driving situations. GDL introduces young beginners to driving in a low-risk way, as they become more mature and develop their driving skills.

    There are three stages to a graduated system: a supervised learner's period; an intermediate license, which is granted after a young driver passes a road test and which limits driving in high-risk situations (e.g., at nighttime or with teen passengers) except under supervision; and a license with full privileges. 

    Florida was the first state to adopt graduated licensing in 1996, and now all states have it in some form, though the strength of the systems varies.

    Changes in state licensing requirements since 1995

      Number of U.S. states
    plus the District of Columbia
    Licensing requirement1995February 2014
    Minimum learner's permit age 16 or older88 and D.C.
    Learner's permit for at least 6 months046 and D.C.
    30+ hours of certified practice driving041and D.C.
    Minimum intermediate licensing age older than 16311 and D.C.
    Night driving restriction once licensed949 and D.C.
    Passenger restriction once licensed043 and D.C.
  2. Has graduated licensing reduced crashes?
    Yes. Research indicates positive effects on the crash experience of young drivers in the United States, as well as in other countries including Canada and New Zealand. Williams, A.F.; Tefft, B.C.; and Grabowski, J.G. 2012. Graduated driver licensing research, 2010-present. Journal of Safety Research 43(3):195-203. Shope, J.T. 2007. Graduated driver licensing: review of evaluation results since 2002. Journal of Safety Research 38(2):165-75. U.S. states and Canadian provinces that have adopted elements of graduated licensing have experienced crash reductions of about 20-40 percent. Shope, J.T. 2007. Graduated driver licensing: review of evaluation results since 2002. Journal of Safety Research 38(2):165-75. National studies conducted by IIHS and HLDI found that strong teen licensing laws are associated with a 30 percent lower rate of fatal crashes per population of 15-17 year-olds McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48. and a 15 percent lower rate of insurance collision claims among 16-17 year olds, relative to the weakest laws. Trempel, R.E. 2009. Graduated driver licensing laws and insurance collision claim frequencies of teenage drivers. Arlington, VA: Highway Loss Data Institute. These findings are consistent with the results of earlier national evaluations, which found that states with three-stage graduated systems had fewer fatal crashes per population of 16 year-olds, compared with states without such systems. Chen, L-H.; Baker, S.P.; and Li, G. 2006. Graduated driver licensing programs and fatal crashes of 16-year-old drivers: a national evaluation. Pediatrics 118:56-62. Baker, S.; Chen, L.; and Li, G. 2007. Nationwide review of graduated licensing. AAA foundation for Traffic Safety, Washington, D.C.
  3. What are the most important components of graduated driver licensing?

    Based on research conducted by the IIHS and HLDI, the key components with the biggest effect on crashes are: permit age, practice hours, license age, and night driving and passenger restrictions. The current best practices in the United States are a minimum permit age of 16 and at least 70 supervised practice hours, a minimum intermediate license age of 17, and during the intermediate stage, a night driving restriction starting at 8 p.m. and a ban on all teen passengers. Other research also has found the length of the learner permit holding period to be important. Masten, S.V.; Foss, F.D.; and Marshall, S.W. 2013. Graduated driver licensing program component calibrations and their association with fatal crash involvement. Accident Analysis and Prevention 57:105-13.

    National studies have found that fatal crash rates of young teen drivers are much lower with strong nighttime driving restrictions. McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48. Masten, S.V.; Foss, F.D.; and Marshall, S.W. 2013. Graduated driver licensing program component calibrations and their association with fatal crash involvement. Accident Analysis and Prevention 57:105-13. In one study, restrictions beginning at 8 p.m. cut the rates an estimated 20 percent compared with no restriction. McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48.

    The same study found a 21 percent reduction in the fatal crash rate of 15-17 year-olds when beginners were prohibited from driving with any teenagers in their vehicles versus allowing two or more. Prohibiting all but one teen passenger was associated with a 7 percent reduction. McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48. A study of teens involved in serious crashes found that, compared with driving alone, teen drivers with passengers were more likely to take risks and more likely to be distracted. Curry, A.E.; Mirman, J.H.; Kallan, M.J.; Winston, F.K.; and Durbin, D.R. 2012. Peer passengers: how do they affect teen crashes? Journal of Adolescent Health 50(6):588-94.

    Institute research has found that delaying permit age by one year (e.g., from 15 to 16) and delaying licensure age by one year (e.g., from 16 to 17) were each associated with a 13 percent reduction in fatal crash rates among 15-17 year-olds. McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48. Requiring a minimum learner permit holding period had little effect on fatal crashes after controlling for other licensing effects in this study; however, another multi-state study found that a minimum learner permit holding period of 9-12 months was associated with a 21 percent reduction in fatal crash rates among 16-17 year-olds. Masten, S.V.; Foss, F.D.; and Marshall, S.W. 2013. Graduated driver licensing program component calibrations and their association with fatal crash involvement. Accident Analysis and Prevention 57:105-13.

    A national study by HLDI found that increasing required practice hours by 40 hours was associated with a 10 percent lower rate of insurance collision claims among 16-17 year olds. Trempel, R.E. 2009. Graduated driver licensing laws and insurance collision claim frequencies of teenage drivers. Arlington, VA: Highway Loss Data Institute.

    Some states impose additional restrictions, such as requiring everyone in a vehicle with a teen driver to use safety belts. Many states have license suspension policies unique to teens or delay a beginner's advancement to the next licensing stage if they are responsible for a crash or are convicted of traffic violations. A majority of states prohibit beginners from using cellphones while driving, and all but a handful ban young beginners from texting.

  4. Which states have the best GDL laws?

    An online calculator developed by IIHS and HLDI shows how states compare on the main components of GDL. Most states have a lot of room for improvement. No state currently has all of the toughest provisions of graduated licensing. The calculator, which launched in May 2012, is intended to show individual states how to reduce rates of fatal crashes and collision claims among teenage drivers by adopting some or all of the most beneficial GDL provisions in effect. Some states could halve or more than halve their rates of fatal crashes among 15-17 year-olds if they adopted the strongest GDL provisions that currently exist.

    The Institute used to publish ratings of young driver laws to recognize states with the best laws. Begun in 2000, the ratings initially encouraged states to adopt three-phase graduated licensing laws, but they didn’t show legislators how any state – even ones with already-strong laws – could boost the benefits of graduated licensing by targeting specific components for improvement. In the intervening years, the Institute has extensively studied state laws and teen crashes and now knows what makes some graduated licensing systems more effective than others. McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48. Trempel, R.E. 2009. Graduated driver licensing laws and insurance collision claim frequencies of teenage drivers. Arlington, VA: Highway Loss Data Institute. Based on these results, researchers are able to estimate the effects of changing individual provisions of graduated licensing and can share this information with policymakers and the public via the online calculator.

  5. Do parents support graduated licensing?

    Yes. Based on a national survey conducted in 2010, parents of teens favor licensing policies as strong as or stronger than in U.S. states now. Williams, A.F; Braitman, K.A.; and McCartt, A.T. 2010. Views of parents of teenagers about licensing policies: a national survey. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Two-thirds of the parents prefer starting learners at 16 or older. More than half support intermediate licensing at 17 or older. A large majority favor night driving restrictions beginning at 10 p.m. or earlier a limit of one teenage passengers at most. Nearly half said these restrictions should last at least until age 18. There also is support for long learner periods with a lot of practice driving and enhanced penalties for violating licensing restrictions. These responses mirror previous surveys. Ferguson, S.A.; Williams, A.F.; Leaf, W.A.; Preusser, D.F.; and Farmer, C.M. 2001. Views of parents of teenagers about graduated licensing after experience with the laws. Journal of Crash Prevention and Injury Control 2:221-27. Williams, A.F.; Ferguson, S.A.; Leaf, W.A.; and Preusser, D.F. 1998. Views of parents of teenagers about graduated licensing systems. Journal of Safety Research 29:1-7. Williams, A.F.; Nelson, L.A.; and Leaf, W.A. 2002. Responses of teenagers and their parents to California's graduated licensing system. Accident Analysis and Prevention 34:835-42 Williams, A.F. and Chaudhary, N.K. 2008. Views of Connecticut parents of teens and other adults about graduated licensing upgrades. Traffic Injury Prevention 9:503-07.

  6. Does graduated driver licensing apply to novice drivers who are 18 or older?
    In most U.S. jurisdictions, graduated licensing policies do not apply to those who are 18 or older. In these jurisdictions, young drivers with intermediate licenses automatically graduate to full licensure when they turn 18. Plus, novices may bypass their state's GDL requirements by not starting the licensure process until age 18. In a few states, graduated licensing rules apply to new drivers age 18 or older. In Maryland, for example, license applicants younger than 25 must hold a learner's permit for nine months, but night and passenger restrictions apply only to those younger than 18. New Jersey is the only jurisdiction that applies full graduated licensing rules to novice drivers under age 21, and these requirements include a six month learner period, followed by an intermediate license with night and passenger restrictions.
  7. What effect does graduated driver licensing have on older teens' crash rates?

    There is mixed evidence on the effects of graduated licensing laws on older teens. A national study found that strong GDL laws were associated with a significant decrease in fatal crash rates for 16 year-olds but a significant increase in fatal crash rates for 18 year-old drivers, with no overall reduction in the fatal crash rates for 16-19 year-olds combined. Masten, S.V.; Foss, R.D.; and Marshall, S.W. 2011. Graduated driver licensing and fatal crashes involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers. Journal of the American Medical Association 306(10):1098-1103. In contrast, national studies conducted by IIHS and HLDI found that stronger laws were associated with significant overall reductions in fatal crash rates for 15-19 year-olds combined and in collision claim rates for 16-19 year-olds combined, with weaker associations for 18- and 19-year olds than for younger teenagers. McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48. Trempel, R.E. 2009. Graduated driver licensing laws and insurance collision claim frequencies of teenage drivers. Arlington, VA: Highway Loss Data Institute.

    Graduated licensing restrictions don't apply to older teens in most states, yet research suggests that such restrictions might be beneficial. In New Jersey, which applies restrictions to all initial licenses for drivers younger than 21 and where an intermediate license is not available until age 17, significant reductions in the crash rates for 16, 17, and 18 year-olds were found without adversely affecting the crash rates for 19 year-olds. Williams, A.F.; Chaudhary, N.K.; Tefft, B.C.; and Tison, J. 2010. Evaluation of New Jersey's graduated driver licensing program.Traffic Injury Prevention11:1-7.

  8. Are teens delaying licensure to avoid graduated licensing requirements?
    Teen licensure rates have fallen in recent years, Shults, R.A. and Williams, A.F. 2013. Trends in driver licensing status and driving among high school seniors in the United States, 1996-2010. Journal of Safety Research 46:167-70. Highway Loss Data Institute. 2013. Evaluation of changes in teenage driver exposure. HLDI Bulletin 30(17). Arlington, VA. but there is little evidence that the decline is due to teens avoiding GDL. A study by the Centers for Disease Control estimated that the proportion of high school seniors with a driver's license fell 14 percent from 1996 to 2010. Shults, R.A. and Williams, A.F. 2013. Trends in driver licensing status and driving among high school seniors in the United States, 1996-2010. Journal of Safety Research 46:167-70. From 2006 to 2012, the number of insured drivers ages 14-19 in 49 states and the District of Columbia fell 12 percent. Highway Loss Data Institute. 2013. Evaluation of changes in teenage driver exposure. HLDI Bulletin 30(17). Arlington, VA. In this study, population changes and changes in state licensing ages contributed somewhat to the decline in the ratio of teen drivers to adult drivers ages 35-54, but the strongest predictor was unemployment. Surveys with teenagers also point to economic and practical reasons for delaying licensure, such as lack of a car and the cost of driving. Williams, A.F. 2011. Teenagers' licensing decisions and their views of licensing policies: a national survey. Traffic Injury Prevention 12(4):312-319. Tefft, B.C.; Williams, A.F.; and Grabowski, J.G. 2013. Timing of driver's license acquisition and reasons for delay among young people in the United States. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
  9. Are young drivers subject to graduated licensing allowed to drive to school, work and extracurricular activities?

    Yes, all states allow at least some exceptions so that novices may drive for specified purposes during restricted hours. The purposes for which novices may drive vary by state.

  10. Do adequate practice driving and strong restrictions following licensure offset the importance of a higher minimum licensing age?

    No. Even after controlling for the effects of other components of graduated licensing, teenagers in states with older licensing ages have lower fatal crash rates and fewer insurance collision claims. Raising the licensing age from 16 to 17, for example, is associated with a 13 percent lower fatal crash rate among 15-17 year-olds McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48. and a 9 percent reduction in collision claim rates among 16-year-old licensed drivers. Trempel, R.E. 2009. Graduated driver licensing laws and insurance collision claim frequencies of teenage drivers. Arlington, VA: Highway Loss Data Institute. A lower fatal crash rate for teenagers also was associated with laws that delay the minimum age at which teenagers can get learner's permits. McCartt, A.T.; Teoh, E.R.; Fields, M.; Braitman, K.A.; and Hellinga, L.A. 2010. Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention 11:240-48.

    A study in New Zealand found a greater increase in crash rates per licensed driver when transitioning from a learner's permit to a restricted license among drivers ages 15½ to 16½ than among drivers who transitioned at older ages. Lewis-Evans, B. 2010. Crash involvement during the different phases of the New Zealand Graduated Driver Licensing System (GDLS). Journal of Safety Research 41:359-365.

    New Jersey is the only U.S. state that doesn't license until age 17. This policy eliminates most crashes involving drivers who are 16, and studies confirm that the combined crash rate of 16 and 17 year-olds in New Jersey is far lower than in neighboring states with younger licensing ages. Ferguson, S.A.; Williams, A.F.; and Preusser, D.F. 1996. Differences in young driver crash involvement in states with varying licensure practices. Accident Analysis and Prevention 28:171-80. Williams, A.F.; Karpf, R.S.; and Zador, P.L. 1983. Variations in minimum licensing age and fatal motor vehicle crashes. American Journal of Public Health 73:1401-03. New Jersey's graduated licensing system also reduces crashes among 18 year-olds, a group largely unaffected by the graduated systems in effect in other states. Williams, A.F.; Chaudhary, N.K.; Tefft, B.C.; and Tison, J. 2010. Evaluation of New Jersey's graduated driver licensing program.Traffic Injury Prevention11:1-7.

  11. Can driver education reduce the need for graduated licensing?

    No. A good education course emphasizing on-the-road driving can teach basic vehicle control skills. If driver education is offered or required, it needs to be in the framework of an effective graduated licensing system to reduce crashes. Traditional high school driver education hasn't been shown to reduce subsequent crash rates among beginning drivers. Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; Williams, A.F.; and Ferguson, S.A. 1998. Effectiveness and role of driver education and training in a graduated licensing system. Journal of Public Health Policy 19(1):51-67. Vernick, J.S.; Guohua, L.; Ogaitis, S.; Mackenzie, E.J.; Baker, S.P.; and Gielen, A.C. 1999. Effects of high school driver education on motor vehicle crashes, violations, and licensure. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 16(Supple 1):40-6. Beanland, V.; Goode, N.; Salmon, P.M.; and Lenne, M.G. 2013. Is there a case for driver training? A review of the efficacy of pre- and post-license driver training. Safety Science 51(1):127-37. Some types of advanced skills training, such as skid control, have been shown to increase crash risk. Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; Williams, A.F.; and Ferguson, S.A. 1998. Effectiveness and role of driver education and training in a graduated licensing system. Journal of Public Health Policy 19(1):51-67. Christie, R. 2001. The effectiveness of driver training as a road safety measure: a review of the literature. Victoria, Australia: Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.

    Many states require teens to take driver education. Some states fast-track teens who take driver education through the graduated licensing system by, for example, allowing them to obtain a learner's permit, intermediate license, or full license sooner. Completion of driver education shouldn't reduce the time a beginner is restricted nor eliminate other requirements under a state's graduated licensing system. New Zealand teenagers who obtained a full license early by completing an education course had higher crash rates than teens who did not graduate early. Lewis-Evans, B. 2010. Crash involvement during the different phases of the New Zealand Graduated Driver Licensing System (GDLS). Journal of Safety Research 41:359-365.

March 2014

  1. Is alcohol a significant factor in teenagers' crashes?

    Yes. Young drivers are less likely than adults to drive after drinking alcohol, but their crash risk is substantially higher when they do. Peck, R.C.; Gebers, M.A.; Voas, R.B.; and Romano, E. 2008. The relationship between blood alcohol concentration (BAC), age, and crash risk. Journal of Safety Research 39:311-19. Voas, R.B.; Torres, P.; Romano, E.; and Lacey, J.H. 2012. Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: an update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 73(3):341-350. This is especially true at low and moderate blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) and is thought to result from teenagers' relative inexperience with drinking, with driving and with combining the two.  

    In 2012, 27 percent of 16-20-year-old passenger vehicle drivers fatally injured in crashes had BACs of 0.08 percent or higher. The percentage of fatally injured 16-20-year-old drivers with high BACs was much lower among females (17 percent) than among males (31 percent), and also was lower among 16-17-year-old drivers (15 percent) than among 18-19-year-old (26 percent) or 20-year-old (37 percent) drivers.

    Drivers ages 16-20 with BACs of 0.05-0.079 percent are 12 times more likely to be killed in single-vehicle crashes than sober teenage drivers. Voas, R.B.; Torres, P.; Romano, E.; and Lacey, J.H. 2012. Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: an update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 73(3):341-350. At BACs of 0.08-0.099, fatality risk is even higher, 32 times that of sober drivers. At the same BAC, the risk of involvement in a fatal crash and the risk of dying in a single-vehicle crash are the same for 16-20 year-old male and female drivers. 

  2. Are there special laws aimed at reducing drinking and driving among teenagers?

    Yes. Minimum alcohol purchasing age laws limit access to alcohol among teenagers. For a long time, the legal age for purchasing alcohol was 21 in most of the United States. In the 1960s and early 1970s, many states lowered their minimum purchasing ages to 18 or 19. McCartt, A.T.; Hellinga, L.A.; and Kirley, B.B. 2009. The effects of minimum legal drinking age 21 laws on alcohol-related driving in the United States. Journal of Safety Research 41:173-81. However, states gradually restored higher minimum purchasing ages so that, by the end of 1984, 22 states had minimum purchasing ages of 21 in effect. Federal legislation was enacted to withhold highway funds from the remaining 28 states if they did not follow suit. Since July 1988, the minimum alcohol purchase age has been 21 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

    In all 50 states and D.C. people younger than 21 are prohibited from driving after drinking. Typically these laws prohibit driving with a BAC of 0.02 percent or greater. Federal legislation enacted in 1995 that allowed for the withholding of highway funds played a role in motivating states to pass such zero-tolerance laws.

  3. Are minimum purchasing age laws and zero-tolerance laws effective in reducing teenage crashes?

    Yes. When many states lowered the minimum alcohol purchasing age in the 1960s and early 1970s, Institute research indicated an increase in the number of drivers younger than 21 involved in nighttime fatal crashes. Williams, A.F.; Rich, R.F.; Zador, P.L.; and Robertson, L.S. 1975. The legal minimum drinking age and fatal motor vehicle crashes. Journal of Legal Studies 4:219-39.  As states restored the minimum legal drinking age to 21, numerous studies found that doing so reduced teenage crashes. Williams, A.F.; Zador, P.L.; Harris, S.S.; and Karpf, R.S. 1983. The effect of raising the legal minimum drinking age on involvement in fatal crashes. Journal of Legal Studies 12:169-79. Du Mouchel, W.; Williams, A.F.; and Zador, P.L. 1987. Raising the alcohol purchase age: its effects on fatal motor vehicle crashes in twenty-six states. Journal of Legal Studies 16:249-66. General Accounting Office. 1987. Drinking-age laws: An evaluation synthesis of their impact on highway safety: General Accounting Office Report to the Chairman. Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Committee on Public Works and Transportation, House of Representatives. Washington, DC. O'Malley, P.M.; and Wagenaar, A.C. 1991. Effects of minimum drinking age laws on alcohol use, related behaviors, and traffic crash involvement among American youth: 1976-1987. Journal of Studies of Alcohol 52:478-91. Shults, R.A.; Elder, R.W.; Sleet, D.A.; Nichols, J.L.; Alao, M.O.; Carande-Kulis, V.G.; Zaza, S.; Sosin, D.M.; Thompson, R.S.; and Task Force on Community Preventative Services. 2001. Reviews of evidence regarding interventions to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. American Journal of Preventative Medicine 21(4 Suppl.):66-88. Wagenaar, A.C.; and Toomey, T.L. 2002. Effects of minimum drinking age laws: review and analysis of the literature from 1960 to 2000. Journal of Studies on Alcohol Suppl. 14:206-25.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that laws establishing 21 as the minimum purchase age in every state saved 3,258 lives during 2007-11. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2012. Lives saved in 2011 by restraint use and minimum drinking age laws. Report no. DOT HS-811-702. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.

    Studies of zero-tolerance laws indicate they reduce crashes among drivers younger than 21. A study of 12 states that passed zero-tolerance laws reported a 20 percent reduction in the proportion of fatal crashes that were single-vehicle nighttime events (crashes likely to involve alcohol impairment) among drivers ages 15-20. Hingson, R.; Heeren, T.; and Winter, M. 1994. Lower legal blood alcohol limits for young drivers. Public Health Reports 109:739-44.

  4. How has the teenage drinking and driving problem changed over time?

    In 1982, only 15 states had a minimum purchasing age of 21, and 53 percent of all fatally injured drivers ages 16-20 had BACs of 0.08 percent or higher. This percentage declined dramatically as states adopted older purchasing age laws. By 1995, it had declined to 24 percent, the biggest improvement for any age group, and was 27 percent in 2012.

    The percentage of high school seniors who report driving after drinking has declined from 16 percent in 2001 to 9 percent in 2011, according to annual survey. O'Malley, P.M. and Johnston, L.D. 2013. Driving after drug or alcohol use by US high school seniors. American Journal of Public Health 103(11):2027-34.

  5. What can be done to further reduce teenage drinking and driving?

    Teenagers can readily obtain alcohol in many communities, and states and communities can make it more difficult. A study of 45 communities in Oregon conducted in 2005 found that alcohol was sold to youthful-looking decoys on 34 percent of purchase attempts. Paschall, M.J; Grube, J.W.; Black, C.; Flewelling, R.L.; Ringwalt, C.L.; and Biglan, A. 2007. Alcohol outlet characteristics and alcohol sales to youth: results of alcohol purchase surveys in 45 Oregon communities. Prevention Science 8(2):153-159. Ownership of fake identification increases dramatically over the first two years of college (from 13 percent precollege to 32 percent by the end of the second year), and is predictive of heavy drinking. Martinez, J.A.; Rutledge, P.C.; and Sher, K.J. 2007. Fake ID ownership and heaving drinking in underage college students: prospective findings. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 21(2):226-232. According to an annual survey of young people in the United States, the perceived availability of alcohol has declined significantly among eighth and 10th graders since 1996 but has been fairly steady among high school seniors. Johnston, L.D.; O'Malley, P.M.; Bachman, J.G.; and Schulenberg, J.E. 2013. Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use: 2012 overview, key findings on drug use. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. In 2012, 91 percent of high school seniors believed it is fairly easy or very easy to get alcohol. 

    Stepped-up enforcement of minimum alcohol purchasing age laws is needed to make them more effective. One barrier to rigorous enforcement is low funding for state alcohol beverage control agencies. This may inhibit not only the identification of servers, sellers, and purchasers who are violating the law but also the timely application of administrative penalties. Establishments do not always check teenagers' identification cards to establish age, and some teenagers use borrowed/altered or false identifications that are difficult to distinguish from official licenses. Schwartz, R.H.; Farrow, J.A.; Banks, B.; and Giesel, A.E. 1998. Use of false ID cards and other deceptive methods to purchase alcoholic beverages during high school. Journal of Addictive Diseases 17:25-33. Research shows that increased enforcement can reduce the sale of alcohol to minors. Grube, J.W. 1997. Preventing sales of alcohol to minors: results from a community trial. Addiction 92:S251-S260.

    Institute researchers found zero-tolerance laws difficult to enforce in some states because police must suspect that a young driver has a high BAC before administering an alcohol test for any measurable BAC. Ferguson, S.A.; Fields, M.; and Voas, R.B. 2000. Enforcement of zero tolerance laws in the United States. Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety (CD ROM). Borlänge, Sweden: Swedish National Road Administration. Offenders with low BACs may not display the erratic driving that leads to a traffic stop. Institute surveys of young people in three states found limited knowledge about zero-tolerance laws, and many of those who knew about the laws did not believe they were enforced often. Ferguson, S.A. and Williams, A.F. 2002. Awareness of zero tolerance laws in three states. Journal of Safety Research 33:293-99. When zero-tolerance laws are enforced they can be effective. An Institute study of Washington state's zero-tolerance law found that it increased the likelihood that an underage person would be sanctioned for drinking and driving, especially among drivers with BACs less than 0.08 percent. McCartt, A.T.; Blackman, K.; and Voas, R.B. 2007. Implementation of Washington state's zero tolerance law: patterns of arrests, dispositions, and recidivism. Traffic Injury Prevention 8:339-45. An Institute study in West Virginia found that a college community's program of publicized, strong enforcement of minimum alcohol purchasing age laws and drinking and driving laws, including the zero-tolerance law, was associated with significant reductions in young drivers’ BACs relative to young drivers in a comparison community without an enforcement program. McCartt, A.T.; Hellinga, L.A.; and Wells, J.K. 2009. Effects of a college community campaign on drinking and driving with a strong enforcement component. Traffic Injury Prevention 10:141-147.