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Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. 1 Fortunately, teen motor vehicle crashes are preventable, and proven strategies can improve the safety of young drivers on the road.
How big is the problem?
In 2011, about 2,650 teens in the United States aged 16–19 were killed and almost 292,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes. 1 That means that seven teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries.
Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population. However, they account for 30% ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28% ($7 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females. 3
Who is most at risk?
The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. 2
Among teen drivers, those at especially high risk for motor vehicle crashes are:
- Males: In 2011, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 16 to 19 was almost two times that of their female counterparts. 1
- Teens driving with teen passengers: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk
increases with the number of teen passengers. 4
- Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure. 5,6
What factors put teen drivers at risk?
How can deaths and injuries resulting from crashes involving teen drivers be prevented?
There are proven methods to helping teens become safer drivers.
Of the teens (aged 13-19) who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2012 approximately 55% were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. 14 Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half. 15
Enforcing minimum legal drinking age laws and zero blood-alcohol tolerance laws for drivers under age 21 are recommended.
Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers' lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, puts them at heightened risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing systems, which exist in all US states and Washington, DC. Graduated driver licensing puts restrictions on new drivers; these are systematically lifted as the driver gains experience. Research suggests that the most comprehensive graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers. 16 When parents know their state’s GDL laws, they can help enforce the laws and, in effect, help keep their teen drivers safe.