Q&A: Teenagers — general
- 1 How serious is the teenage motor vehicle crash problem?
In 2010, 3,115 teenagers (ages 13-19) died in the United States from crash injuries. Such injuries are by far the leading cause of death among people 13-19 years old. 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 35:683-91. McCartt, A.T.; Shabanova, V.I. and Leaf, W.A. 2003. Driving experience, crashes, and teenage beginning drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 35:311-20.
- 2 How do teenage crash rates compare with rates among drivers of other ages?
Teenage drivers have high rates of both fatal and nonfatal crashes compared with adult drivers. Teenagers drive less than all but the oldest people, but their numbers of crashes and crash deaths are disproportionately high. Based on crashes of all severities, the crash rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds is about 3 times the risk 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. Federal Highway Administration. 2008. National Household Travel Survey, 2008. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation.
The driver death rate per population in 2010 was 7.2 deaths per 100,000 16-19 year-olds, compared with 6.5 deaths per 100,000 people ages 20 and older.
Many teenagers die as passengers in motor vehicle crashes. Fifty-nine percent of teenage passenger deaths in 2010 occurred in vehicles driven by another teenager. Among deaths of passengers of all ages, 17 percent occurred when a teenager was driving.
- 3 How do crashes involving teenagers differ from those of other drivers?
Analyses of fatal crash data indicate that crashes of teenage drivers are more likely to be attributed to driver error. Teenagers' fatal crashes are more likely to involve speeding than those of older drivers, and teenagers are more likely than drivers of other ages to be in single-vehicle fatal crashes. Plus teenagers do more of their driving in small and older cars Cammisa, M.X.; Williams, A.F.; and Leaf, W.A. 1999. Vehicles driven by teenagers in four states. Journal of Safety Research 30:25-30. and at night, Federal Highway Administration. 2008. National Household Travel Survey, 2008. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. compared with adults. In 2010, 17 percent of teenagers' fatalities occurred between 9 p.m. and midnight, and 24 percent occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. Fifty-five percent of teenagers' fatalities occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
See Beginning Teenage Drivers brochure
- 4 Why is teenage crash involvement so high?
An Institute review of recent literature confirmed that driver age and experience both have strong effects on driver 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 10:209-19. 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 3,115 in 2010, a decline of 64 percent. Between 1996, when the first three-stage graduated driver licensing program was implemented, and 2010, teenage crash deaths declined by 46 percent (from 5,819 to 3,115). Teenage crash deaths dropped from 3,480 in 2009 to 3,115 in 2010, a decline of 10 percent.
Between 1975 and 2010 the rate of crash deaths per 100,000 people declined by 65 percent for teenagers (from 29 to 10 per 100,000). Between 1996 and 2010 the per capita crash death rate for teenagers declined by 53 percent (from 22 to 12 per 100,000). In contrast, the death rate declined by 58 percent for people 12 and younger (from 4 to 2 per 100,000), 8 percent for people ages 20-69 (from 17 to 16 per 100,000) and 42 percent for people 70 and older (from 23 to 13 per 100,000).
Teenage driver crash involvements per population also have declined since 1996, and the largest declines occurred for 16 year-olds. Between 1996 and 2010 fatal crashes per population fell 68 percent for 16 year-olds, 59 percent for 17 year-olds, 52 percent for 18 year-olds, and 47 percent for 19 year-olds. During the same period, police-reported crashes per population fell 63 percent for 16 year-olds, 51 percent for 17 year-olds, 43 percent for 18 year-olds, and 39 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. A young driver is first required to complete a supervised learner's period before obtaining an intermediate license that limits driving in high-risk situations until the 18th birthday. Only then can drivers get licenses 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 27:93-101.
See licensing systems for young drivers for more details
- 7 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 18:273-87. 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 39:311-19. 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. At the same BAC, male and female drivers were equally likely to be involved in fatal crashes.
Among teenage passenger vehicle drivers (16-19 years old) who were fatally injured in 2010, 26 percent of males and 19 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 (28 percent).
- 8 What can be done to reduce teenagers' high crash rates?
The most effective policies address crash risk factors or limit teenagers' driving exposure — for example, night driving and passenger restrictions for beginning drivers and higher ages for initial licensure. Williams, A.F. and Ferguson, S.A. 2002. Rationale for graduated licensing and the risks it should address. Injury Prevention 8(suppl. II):ii9-ii16. General curfews that apply to all late-night activities for 13-17 year-olds also reduce crashes and crash injuries. Preusser, D.F.; Williams, A.F.; Lund, A.K.; and Zador, P.L. 1990. City curfew ordinances and teenage motor vehicle injury. Accident Analysis and Prevention 22:391-97. 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 US 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 38:165-75. 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. 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 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 individual states the safety gains they could achieve by adopting some or all of the most beneficial graduated licensing provisions in effect today.
- 9 Do driver education programs make teenagers safer?
Formal evaluations 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 19:51-67. 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 16:40-46. of U.S. high school driver education programs indicate little or no effect in reducing crashes per licensed driver, and offering driver education in schools can have an unintended negative effect on crash involvement by encouraging early licensure among 16-17 year-olds. 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. The net result is more crashes per capita among teenagers. Connecticut eliminated high school driver education and lowered teenage crash rates by reducing licensure. Robertson, L.S. 1980. Crash involvement of teenaged drivers when driver education is eliminated from high school. American Journal of Public Health 70:599-603. 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 10:197-202. There is considerable 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 19:51-67. 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: 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.