Teen Drivers

teen driverUpdated July 2018

Fatal injuries from car wrecks are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens between the ages of 13 and 19. In 2015, 1,847 16- to 20-year-old drivers were killed and 715 young passengers riding with young drivers were killed, according to the NHTSA. Further, while people aged 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population, they account for 30% ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28% ($7 billion) of the total costs among females, according to the CDC.

The risk of crashing is especially high for teens during the first few years of licensure. Inexperience and immaturity make for risky driving behavior and increase the likelihood of a crash. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers aged 20 and older. In the last 15 years, all states have changed their teen licensing procedures, a big reason why the fatality rate for drivers ages 15 to 20 has decreased 49% between 2003 and 2012. Many states have worked to reduce teen motor vehicle fatalities and injuries through graduated driver’s licensing (GDL). This system limits the exposure to high-risk situations, such as night-time driving, by gradually phasing in driving privileges for teens. GDL allows teens to gain valuable driving experience in low-risk driving situations. In fact, AAA’s research suggests that the most comprehensive GDL programs are associated with a 38% reduction in fatal crashes and a 40% reduction in injury crashes among 16-year-old drivers.

nighttime driving map

  • Crash rates for teens are consistently lower in states with nighttime driving restrictions.
  • In 2010, half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 55% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday
  • The majority of nighttime fatal crashes involving young drivers occur before midnight, yet more than half of the 49 states with nighttime restrictions do not restrict driving until midnight or later.
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety defines an optimal graduated driver's licensing system as one that includes a night driving restriction that begins at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.
  • In a national survey, 74 percent of parents said they were in favor of nighttime driving restrictions.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014.

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Douglas Shinkle