Teenage Drivers Most at Risk for Causing Fatal Motor Vehicle Accidents

Teenage drivers not only are involved in more automobile accidents in this country than any other age group, their accidents tend to be the most catastrophic.

Per mile driven, 16-to-19-year-old drivers are four times more likely to crash than older drivers. And, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automobile accidents involving teenage drivers are the number one cause of death for U.S. teenagers. From 2000 to 2009, more than 81,000 people died in crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 20 years old.

Research shows several factors and behaviors contribute to teen-related crashes: inexperience and immaturity behind the wheel, excessive speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seat belts, distractions from passengers, drowsy driving, nighttime driving, and drug use.

Steps to Reduce Teen Driver Accidents

So, some of the obvious steps to help reduce fatal car accidents involving teenage drivers include:

  • Getting them to stop using their cell phone while they drive. Distracted drivers of all ages cause accidents, but younger drivers have been shown to use their cell phones behind the wheel much more than older drivers.
  • Getting teenagers to wear seatbelts. Again, teenage drivers and teenage occupants are less likely to wear their seatbelts than any other age group.
  • No alcohol or drug use. Statistics show that teens are at far greater risk of death in an alcohol-related crash than the overall population.
  • Limiting the number of passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen. Research has revealed that younger drivers involved in accidents are often distracted (and influenced) by their passengers just before the crash occurs.

Comprehensive Graduated Driver Licensing Programs Can Save Teen Lives

The National Safety Council, an independent, nonprofit research agency charted by Congress, recently released a report examining the effects of graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws on fatal crashes involving teenage drivers. A GDL program gradually phases in driving privileges for teen drivers and puts restrictions on their conditions for driving. Missouri has such program, as do all 50 states to varying degrees. Some programs are much more stringent in their restrictions, involving numerous components such as banning cell phone use and limited nighttime driving.

This study examined the impact if all 50 states adopted a comprehensive GDL program. It applied the results of a 2007 review of all GDLs in the country, and found that states with the most comprehensive programs (five components) experienced 38 percent fewer deaths from teen-driver accidents than they would have with no GDL. States with only one component in their GDL saw an estimated 4 percent reduction in fatalities.

Since 2007, several states have added components to their GDLs, so the most comprehensive now feature as many as seven restrictions.

Bottom-line, the National Safety Council estimates that if all 50 states adopted the same comprehensive GDL, 2,000 lives and some $13.6 billion would be saved each year. The report calculated that crashes involving teen drivers cost the United States a little over $38 billion annually. That figure includes medical expenses, insurance and wage losses, vehicle and other property damages, and police and ambulance costs.

The study estimates that in Missouri, of the 154 motor vehicle fatalities involving young drivers in 2009, 72 lives would have been saved with a comprehensive GDL, at a cost savings of $490 million.