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Teen Driving and Car Accident Statistics

A Comprehensive Review of the Facts and Information on Prevention

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States.  While getting a driver’s license and riding with friends is a rite of passage for most teens, riding in a passenger vehicle with a teenage driver (whether as the driver or as a passenger) is a risky proposition. This comprehensive breakdown of teen driving facts and statistics serves to highlight the inherent risks in teenage driving, the impact of advanced driver licensing programs on teenage driver safety, and any other relevant facts and figures that can accurately paint the picture of teenage driving in the United States.

Teen Driving Statistics

From 2014 – 2018, there were 20,626 fatal crashes in the United States that involved at least one young driver (aged 15 – 20) – nearly 12.5 percent of all fatal crashes.   Among U.S. states, Utah had the highest share of deadly crashes that involved teen drivers with 16.43 percent, while Maryland had the lowest share with 9.49 percent (*the District of Columbia had a share of 6.98).

Teenage drivers are inherently at a greater risk for crashes and fatal crashes than all other age groups in the United States. In fact, teen drivers have the highest involvement rate in fatal crashes of any other age group. In 2017, 37.1 drivers aged 16 – 20 were involved in a fatal crash for every 100,000 licensed driver.

Involvement in fatal crashes is just the beginning.   In 2018, over 1.3 million crashes in the United States involving a teenaged (young driver aged 15 – 20).  This includes 955,913  property damage only crashes, 359,268 injury crashes and 4,000 fatal crashes.  From 2004 – 2018, these types of crashes made up an estimated 20,170,439 crashes.

YearFatal CrashesInjury CrashesProperty DamageTotal Crashes


More Statistics On Teen Driving Risk

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019 there were 2,734 teenagers (ages 13-19) who died in the United States from crash injuries – the leading cause of death in that age group.
  • The fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16 and 17-year-olds is about 3 times the rate for drivers 20 and older.
  • Based on police-reported crashes of all severities, the crash rate for 16 – 19 year-olds is nearly 4 times the rate for drivers over 20.
  • Teen crash risk is at its very highest at age 16
  • Teen drivers have crash rates nearly 4 times those of drivers 20 and older per mile driven
  • The crash rate per mile driven is 1½ times as high for 16-year-olds as it is for 18-19 year-olds
  • Alcohol is a factor in many teen crashes
  • Crash risk among teenage drivers is especially high during the first months of licensure
  • Risky driver in the early licensure period is higher among males
  • 27 percent of the young male drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking at the time of the crash, compared with 15 percent of the young female drivers involved in fatal crashes
  • According to the CA Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV, 2019), the citation rate for 16-year-olds is 1.8 times higher than drivers of all ages
  • The citation rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.1 times higher than drivers of all ages
  • Graduated licensing reduces teens’ driving risk
  • The crash rate for 16-year-olds is 3.7 times higher than drivers of all ages.
  • The crash rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.7 times higher than drivers of all ages.
  • The citation rate for 16-year-olds is 1.8 times higher than drivers of all ages.
  • The citation rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.1 times higher than drivers of all ages.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes are the top cause of death in teenagers – more than one in three deaths in this age group are due to a fatal car accident.

Key Risk Groups Among Teenagers

The CDC has identified these particular demographics as the key risk groups among teenage drivers.


In 2017, the motor vehicle fatality rate was more than two times higher for male drivers aged 16-20 than the fatality rate for female drivers of the same age.

However, female teenagers have the highest involvement rate in fatal crashes of any female age group. Yet it is still, less than half the rate of male teens.

Newly licensed teens

The first months following securing a driver’s license are the most dangerous for a teenage driver. According to the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, the crash rate per mile driven is 1.5 times higher for 16-year-olds than it is for 18 and 19-year-olds.

The Greatest Risk Factors Among Teenage Drivers

Why are teenage drivers especially vulnerable to fatal car accidents?

  1. Driver inexperience
  2. Alcohol-Impaired Driving
  3. Driving with teen passengers
  4. Nighttime driving
  5. Not using seat belts
  6. Distracted driving
  7. Drowsy driving
  8. Reckless Driving and Speeding

Driver Inexperience

Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate or not be able to recognize dangerous situations. Additionally, teenagers are more likely to have confidence in their abilities, despite a lack of experience. Teens are also more likely than adults to make critical decision errors that lead to serious crashes.

Alcohol Use: How Many Teens Die From Drunk Driving?

From 2014 – 2018, 3,855 teens were killed in fatal crashes where at least one driver had been drinking – that’s nearly 29 percent of all motor vehicle deaths in that age group.

  • Although alcohol use is illegal under the age of 21, in 2018 15 percent of drivers aged 16-20 (622 drivers in total) involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of .08 or higher.
  • According to the 2017 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 16.5 percent of respondents reported having ridden with a teen driver who had been drinking in the last month.
  • In 2016, almost one out of five teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking. According to data, 16 percent of 15- to 18-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2016 had been drinking.

Teens Drivers with Passengers

In a study analyzed by the NHTSA, teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with just one single teenage passenger. When a teen driver travels with multiple passengers, the likelihood of teen drivers engaging in one or more risky behaviors when traveling with multiple passengers increased to three times.

In fact, there is a direct, positive correlation between the number of teen passengers in a car and an increased risk of a fatal crash.

Seat Belt Use

Teens and young adults often have the lowest seat belt use rates when compared to other age groups. In 2017, only 58.8 percent of high school students reported that they 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).

In 2016, a total of 818 teen drivers (15- to 18-year-old) and 569 passengers died in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers. 58 percent of those passengers were not wearing their seat belts at the time of the fatal crash.


Speed is a major factor in crashes for all age groups, yet impacts teens the most – due to inexperience.  In 2016, speeding was a factor in 32 percent of the fatal crashes that involved passenger vehicle teen drivers. A study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found that from 2000-2011, teens were involved in 19,447 speeding-related fatal crashes.

Nighttime and Weekend Driving

In 2017, 40 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths among teen drivers and passengers aged 13-19 occurred between 9 pm and 6am, and 51 percent occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Generally, the time period between 6 am and 6 pm is the most dangerous for teenage drivers.

Drowsy Driving

Many studies have suggested that starting school at a later time can significantly impact academic performance.  The same can be said for teen driving safety, as drowsy driving is a significant factor in motor vehicle crashes.

Parents Are a Significant Influence on Teen Driving Behaviors

A 2014 study by Liberty Mutual and SADD found that parents are not only engaging in the same behaviors that they warn their own children against, but they also do so when their children are in the vehicle. According to the findings,

  • 86 percent have said they have talked on a phone while driving
  • 80 percent have engaged in speeding
  • 40 percent have texted while driving
  • 21 percent have driven without a seat belt
  • 34 percent have driven after drinking alcohol

83 percent of surveyed teenagers say they have witnessed their parents engaging in these unsafe behaviors while they are in the car with them.

Even worse, when teenagers speak up, parents don’t listen. 60 percent of teenagers reportedly have asked their parents to stop any of the above dangerous driving habits. However, 41 percent say their parents continue these unsafe behaviors even after their teens ask them to stop – and 28 percent of parents justify why they should be allowed to engage in these unsafe behaviors.

If parents cannot follow the same safe driving principles that they are divulging to their teenage drivers, why should we think teen drivers are going to take this advice to heart?

Graduated Driver Licensing Programs

In order to combat alarmingly rising rates of fatal teen crashes, Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs were instituted to give young drivers a way to safely gain driving experience before being given full driving privileges. While all 50 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) currently have some form of a GDL system in place, generally they all follow the same general progression of learning stages.

  • The first stage is the Learner/permit Stage, which involves supervised driving cumulating in a driving test.
  • The second stage, the Intermediate Stage, limits unsupervised driving in high-risk situations, such as nighttime driving or driving with passengers in the car. Only the state of Vermont doesn’t restrict nighttime driving during this stage. There are 46 states and D.C. that restrict passengers in the cars of drivers in this stage.
  • The last stage is the Full Privilege Stage; drivers are issued a standard driver’s license and may drive without restrictions.

Additionally, some states enact provisions within their GDL program to restrict certain unsafe driving behaviors.

  • Cell Phones/Texting: 38 states and D.C. currently ban all cell phone use by novice drivers
  • Nighttime Driving Restriction: All states except Vermont restrict nighttime driving during the intermediate stage.
  • Passenger Restriction: 46 states and D.C. restrict the number of passengers during the intermediate stage.

The age at which drivers may obtain licenses also varies. While a state like Arkansas allows a teen driver to begin driving as young as 14 years of age, others don’t allow them to begin driving until age 16.

The Impact of GDL Laws on Teen Driving

GDL laws have reduced the number of teen fatal crashes, but not all teens are observing the laws. Part of the problem is that parents don’t always enforce the rules when it comes to following the regulations for their teens. In a recent survey of 1,000 parents of teen drivers, nearly one-third of parents say they don’t always enforce GDL laws. While parents cited a variety of reasons for this, the main one was that they were simply unaware of the GDL laws in their state (see responses below).

  • I am not aware of the GDL laws — 45 percent
  • I don’t think the GDL laws are fair — 18 percent
  • I pick and choose the laws that I think my child should follow — 18 percent
  • I try, but it’s too difficult because my teen doesn’t always listen to me — 14 percent
  • My teen’s friends always need transportation and it’s hard to say no — 12 percent
  • I don’t think they’re necessary — 9 percent

While these programs have been shown to reduce teen fatality related crashes, some studies have found that more stringent GDL programs may provide more significant results in driver safety. Research by the National Institutes of Health found that the most effective GDL programs incorporated at least five of these key elements:

  • A minimum age of 16 for a learner’s permit
  • A mandatory waiting period of at least six months before being allowed to apply for an intermediate license
  • A time requirement of 50 to 100 hours of supervised driving before testing for an intermediate license
  • A minimum age of 17 for an intermediate license
  • Appropriate restrictions on driving at night
  • A limit on the number of teenage passengers in the vehicle
  • A minimum age of 18 for a full license

According to a study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), if every state adopted the five strictest limitations in GDL laws across the nation, it would prevent more than 9,500 car accidents and more than 500 motor vehicle fatalities every year.

Teenage Drivers and Auto Insurance

When you add a teen driver to your auto insurance policy, your rates will rise significantly. On average, rates can increase 130% after you add a teen to a policy, costing an extra $2,000 yearly, depending upon your state and your insurer. If you buy your teen his or her own policy, it will cost much, much more. You should also be aware of the fact that rates for males tend to be higher than for females.

Of course, there is a reason for all this: new drivers are among the most dangerous on the road. Teens have the highest accident rates and file more claims than other drivers. Additionally, males tend to riskier driving behaviors and to be involved in more fatal crashes than females.

Research also shows that drivers ages 16-19 continue to have the highest rates of crash involvement, injuries to themselves and others, and to be involved in fatality related crashes.

Risky Driver Means Expensive Insurance

Insurance for your teen will vary widely, but the bottom line is that it is costly. Specifics depend on a variety of factors, including where you live, whether your teen has had any accidents in the past, his or her age, etc.

The good news is that the cost of insurance will decrease as your teen ages as long as he or she doesn’t get into any accidents or get any tickets. A clean driving record is important.

Here are the average auto insurance rates for each teenage level according to

  • 16-year-old – $3,989
  • 17-year-old – $3,522
  • 18-year-old – $3,148
  • 19-year-old – $2,178
  • 20-year-old – $1,945

How to Reduce Risk in Teen Driving

Understanding the relationship between age and driving behavior is vital is protecting everyone on the roads. The problem of risk and young drivers has interested highway safety researchers and administrators for many years.

Parents can play a vital part in ensuring the safety of their teenage children when they are on the road. The following precautions in teenage drivers can significantly reduce the risk of teen driving.

  • Wear a seat belt.
  • Follow all GDL precautions and provisions.
  • Highlight the dangers of drinking and driving.
  • Talk about any driving risks that may not be as apparent, such as distractions and drowsy driving.

Most importantly, set a good example. As a parent, do not engage in the same unsafe driving behaviors that you have said are dangerous. This not only undermines the advice you are giving but may prevent teen drivers from taking the advice seriously.


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