Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.
In 2017, 2,364 teens in the United States aged 16-19 were killed, and about 300,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. That means six teens aged 16-19 died every day due to motor vehicle crashes, and hundreds more were injured.
In 2017, young people aged 15-19 represented 6.5% of the U.S. population. However, motor vehicle injuries, both fatal and nonfatal, among young people in this age group represented about $13.1 billion, or almost 8%, of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.
The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16-19 than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers in this age group are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.
Teens who are at especially high risk for motor vehicle crashes are:
- Male: In 2017, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers aged 16-19 was over two times higher than the death rate for female drivers of the same age.
- Teens driving with teen passengers: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with increased numbers of teen passengers.
- Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure.6,7 Data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey indicate that the crash rate per mile driven is 1.5 times higher for 16-year-olds than it is for 18-19 year-olds.
Risk factors for teen drivers
- Inexperience: Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate or not be able to recognize dangerous situations. Teens are also more likely than adults to make critical decision errors that lead to serious crashes.
- Speeding: Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next).
- Seat Belt Use: Compared with other age groups, teens and young adults often have the lowest seat belt use rates. In 2017, only 58.8% of high school students always wore seat belts when riding as passengers. Among young drivers aged 15-20 who died in car crashes in 2017, almost half were unrestrained at the time of the crash (when restraint use was known).
- Alcohol Use:: Any amount of alcohol increases the risk of crashes among teens as compared with older drivers. In the 2017 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 16.5% of high school students had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol within the previous month. Among students who drove, 5.5% drove when they had been drinking alcohol during the 30 days before the survey.
- Nighttime and Weekend Driving:: In 2017, 40% of motor vehicle crash deaths among teen drivers and passengers aged 13-19 occurred between 9 pm and 6 am, and 51% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.