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Data Shows Drop in Fatal Crashes Involving Teen Drivers

Updated on: 11/15/2019

Teen Drivers Are SaferGood news for parents of teenage drivers hit the newswire earlier this month, as recently-published data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows there has been a 55% decrease in fatal car accidents involving teenage drivers over the last decade.

According a report published and released by the CDC, the number of deadly crashes involving teenage drivers declined sharply from 5,724 in 2004 to just 2,568 in 2013, the last full year for which this data was available.

Factors Contributing to Decline in Fatal Teen Crashes

One factor contributing to this decrease is graduated licensing programs (GLP). Between 1996 and 2011, all 50 states and the District of Columbia adopted GLPs. States decide on requirements and restrictions for learner’s permit, intermediate, and unrestricted driver’s licenses. Such requirements and restrictions stipulate the ages, amount of supervised driving, nighttime privileges, and passenger privileges in order to get the various stages of licenses. GLPs have been estimated to reduce fatal teenage crashes by 8 to 14%.

Another factor is safety features in newer models of cars. These might include automatic breaking systems and electronic stability control features to help stabilize the vehicle after detecting a loss of traction, allowing the driver a chance to regain control.

Furthermore, many teens are waiting longer to get their licenses. Data on teen driving statistics were collected from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In 2013, 69.8%, 78.0%, and 84.2% of 16, 17, and 18 year olds reported driving in the last 30 days, respectively. If a person waits until they are 18 to get their license, compared to a 16 year old, they are more mature and will likely be a better beginner driver.

Conversely, if a person waits until the age of 18 to begin driving, they will have fewer opportunities to practice driving in a supervised, low-risk learning environment that GLPs are designed for. The risk that this poses to driving safety is one area that needs to be further studied.

Other Factors To Consider

On average, teenagers throughout the country are driving less. This survey found that 76.3% of American teens had driven in the last 30 days. By race, 82.3% of white teenagers had driven while 67.6% and 68.9% of black and Hispanic teens had driven, respectively. It is difficult to compare this data to previous years, because the questions on the survey ask about drinking or texting while driving and prior to 2013, there was no option for “I have not driven.”

In data from previous years, responding negative to drinking or texting while driving could either mean the respondent had not been drinking or texting while driving or that they did not drive at all.

Geographic location can affect the frequency of driving as well. In Midwest, mountainous areas with lower population densities, there is a higher percentage of teen drivers compared to large cities with high population densities that have shorter travel distances, and more alternate modes of transportation.

Statistical Differences by Location

For large, urban places such as San Francisco, CA and Hawaii, only 30.2% and 53.8% of teens reported driving in the last 30 days. In lower population areas, such as North Dakota, South Dakota, and North Carolina, 94.9%, 90.2%, and 76.0% of teens reported driving.

Socioeconomics also play a role in licensure. Some families do not have access to a car, or can’t afford all of the financial costs associated with driving, such as gas, insurance, and driver’s education classes. African Americans and Hispanics are among this group of people who do not drive as frequently.

While the overall reduction in fatal auto accidents involving teen drivers throughout the last decade is definitely a promising sign, there are a number of factors presented in the Reuters article that indicate the need for additional analysis of the data.

One of the biggest questions that has risen from this data is whether or not the age of a teen has an impact on the likelihood of being involved in a fatal crash. This could ultimately impact the age at which parents allow their teen children to begin driving, and could also even influence future legislative changes to driving laws for teenagers. 

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