Nora & Will

Teen Drivers: Get the Facts

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Teen motor vehicle crashes are preventable, and proven strategies can improve the safety of young drivers on the road.

The Problem

How big is the problem?

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.

Risk Groups

Who is most at risk?

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:

  • 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. 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

What factors put teen drivers at risk?

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Drinking alcohol is illegal under the age of 21; therefore, so is drinking and driving. Despite this, in 2017, 15% of drivers aged 16-20 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of .08% or higher (a level that is illegal for adults aged 21 and older in all states, except Utah, which has a BAC limit of .05).
  • In 2017, 58% of drivers aged 15-20 who were killed in motor vehicle crashes after drinking and driving were not wearing a seat belt (based on known restraint use).
  • Among male drivers aged 15-20 who were involved in fatal crashes in 2017, 31% were speeding at the time of the crash and 20% had been drinking.
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.


Eight Danger Zones

Make sure you and your young driver are aware of the leading causes of teen crashes:

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

There are proven methods to help teens become safer drivers. Learn what research has shown parents can do to keep teen drivers safe from each of these risks.

Seat Belts Save Lives

At least 46% of teen drivers and passengers who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2017 were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.

Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Laws

States vary in their enforcement of seat belt laws. A primary enforcement seat belt law allows police officers to ticket drivers or passengers for not wearing a seat belt, even if this is the only violation that has occurred. A secondary enforcement seat belt law allows police officers to ticket drivers or passengers for not wearing a seat belt only if they have pulled over the driver for another reason. Some states have secondary enforcement of seat belt laws for adults, but have primary enforcement seat belt laws for young drivers. Seat belt use among all age groups is consistently higher in states with primary enforcement seat belt laws than in states with secondary seat belt enforcement laws. Visit the seat belts page on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website for up-to-date information on seat belt laws by state, including the type of enforcement and who is covered. Use CDC’s MV PICCS to learn about how many lives could be saved, injuries prevented, and costs averted if your state were to implement a primary enforcement seat belt law.

Not Drinking & Driving Prevents Crashes

Enforcing minimum legal drinking age laws and zero blood-alcohol tolerance laws for drivers under age 21 is recommended to help prevent drinking and driving among young drivers.

Graduated Driver Licensing Systems Reduce Fatal Crashes

Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers’ lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, heightens their risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems. Although varied, GDL systems exist in all U.S. states and Washington, D.C. GDL systems provide longer practice periods, limit driving under high-risk conditions for newly licensed drivers, and require greater participation from parents as their teens learn to drive. Research suggests that more comprehensive GDL systems are associated with 26% to 41% reductions in fatal crashes and 16% to 22% reductions in overall crashes among 16-year-old drivers. Parents can help their teen be safer by knowing and following their state’s GDL laws. Check out the graduated licensing laws by state on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website to learn more about your state’s GDL laws.