The Facts

Why all the hype? Is it really that big a problem? Yes, it is…

In the United States, teenagers drive less than all but the oldest people, but their numbers of crashes and crash deaths are disproportionately high.1 In the United States, the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds is nearly 3 times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over. Risk is highest at ages 16-17. In fact, the fatal crash rate per mile driven is nearly twice as high for 16-17 year-olds as it is for 18-19 year-olds.

So yes, it’s a really big problem. What’s contributing to this ongoing epidemic? Here are the facts.


Teens crash most often because they are inexperienced – not because they take more risks behind the wheel. Most fatal nighttime crashes involving teen drivers happen between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Drunk & Drugged Driving

Underage drinking remains a factor in teenage highway fatalities. Seventeen percent of drivers ages 16 to 20 who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2014 were alcohol-impaired, which is defined by a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams per deciliter or higher, according to NHTSA. This proportion was unchanged from 2005.

Many teens report getting alcohol from parents. Approximately 25% of teens (ages 12 to 20 years) report getting alcohol from adults such as parents other family members (SAMHSA). However, parents can be a strong determinant in whether or not their kids drink.


According to NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis, among drivers involved in fatal crashes, young males are the most likely to be speeding. In 2013 about 35 percent of both 15 to 20-year old and 21 to 24-year old male drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash, compared to 21 percent of female drivers of the same age groups.

Seat Belts

More than half of teens killed in car crashes were not restrained in a seatbelt.

Teenagers are less likely to wear safety belts even when their parents do, according to a survey conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released in 2002. The report found that 46 percent of the teenagers who were dropped off at school by their parents were not wearing safety belts and in 8 percent of cases teens were using safety belts while the adult driver was not.

Distracted Driving

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, in 2014, 10 percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, released in June 2014, shows that about 41.4 percent of high school students reported that they texted or emailed from behind the wheel at least once during the previous 30 days.


Other teen passengers are one of the biggest distractions for teen drivers.

Research shows that when teenage drivers transport teen passengers there is a greatly increased crash risk. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report in May 2012 that showed that the risk of 16- or 17-year old drivers being killed in a crash increases with each additional teenage passenger in the vehicle. The risk increases 44 percent with one passenger; it doubles with two passengers and quadruples with three or more passengers. The study analyzed crash data and the number of miles driven by 16- and 17-year olds.