Teen Drivers Overview


Teen driver.

Teen Drivers

Young drivers ages 15 to 20 have higher crash rates than older, more experienced drivers. In fact, fatal injuries from car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens between the ages of 16 and 19. In 2017, 1,830 15- to 20-year-old drivers were killed and 979 passengers riding with young drivers were also killed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While young people aged 15-19 represented only 5.4% of the total driving population in 2017, they accounted for $13.1 billion, or almost 8%, of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.

The risk of crashing is especially high for teens during their first few years of driving. 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 decreased by 49% between 2003 and 2012. Total fatalities in crashes involving young drivers decreased steadily over a 10-year period from 6,452 in 2008 to 4,750 in 2017, resulting in a 26% decrease.

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 young drivers. GDL allows teens to gain valuable driving experience in low-risk driving situations. AAA’s research suggests that the most comprehensive GDL programs have reduced fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers by 38%. Additionally, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that GDL programs significantly reduced the fatal crash rate for 16- and 17-year-old drivers by 14% when compared to 21- to 25-year-old drivers.

States with night-ime driving restrictions .

In 2019, Michigan (SB 192, SB 193) amended its laws on nighttime driving hours. One new law (SB 192) stated that a requirement to complete at least 10 nighttime driving hours behind-the-wheel for a “Level 2” graduated license, which is issued to drivers who are 16 and 17 years old, does not apply if the driver holds a graduated license that permits daytime driving only. The other new law (SB 193) stated that a student’s admission into a “Segment 2” driver education course, which must be completed to be eligible for a “Level 2” graduated license, is not subject to a requirement to complete at least two nighttime driving hours behind-the-wheel if such student holds a graduated license that permits daytime driving only.

The following information is from a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Driving at night increases the risk of fatal crashes for all drivers, especially young drivers. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia include a night driving restriction in their GDL system.
  • Thirty-one percent of fatal nighttime crashes between 2009 and 2014 involved 16- and 17-year-old drivers.
  • Fifty-seven percent of crashes occurred before midnight and 31% of crashes occurred between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., hours of which only about 11% of all trips are made by teen drivers.
  • Earlier nighttime driving restrictions, such as before midnight, would likely further reduce the fatal crash rate among newly licensed teen drivers.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016.

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