skip navigation
NHTSA, People Saving People, www.nhtsa.dot.gov logo

Motor Vehicle Occupant Protection
F  A  C  T  S


Sixty-five percent of the 5,625 young adults ages 16 to 20 who were killed when riding in passenger vehicles in 2002 were not wearing safety belts.Facts About Young Adults Ages 16 to 20

In 2002, young people ages 16 to 20 years old made up approximately 6.4 percent (12.5 million) of the 194.3 million licensed drivers in the United States. The estimated economic cost of police-reported crashes involving drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 was $40.8 billion in 2002.9 This cost represents approximately 18 percent of the $230 billion a year that police-reported traffic crashes cost our society. In short, young people represent less than 7 percent of the drivers but are responsible for 18 percent of the costs of traffic crashes.

In addition to the disproportionate “harm” that 16- to 20-year-old drivers experience from motor vehicle crashes, consider the following additional “costs” for young drivers and passengers:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young adults ages 16 to 20.

  • Young adults between the ages of 16 and 20 are more likely to be killed and injured in motor vehicle crashes than children and youth from birth to age 15. In 2002, of the 7,410 children, youth, and young adults from birth through age 20 who were killed in motor vehicle crashes, 76 percent were 16 to 20 years old; of the 729,207 injured from birth to age 20, 65 percent were 16- to 20-year-olds. See Chart 8.

  • Although young drivers made up approximately 7 percent of the total licensed driving population, in 2002, 15 percent (3,448) of all the drivers involved in fatal crashes were young drivers 15 to 20 years old, and 16 percent (310,000) of all the drivers injured in police-reported crashes were young drivers.

  • During 2002, a young person died in a traffic crash an average of once every hour on weekends (weekends are defined as 6 p.m. on Friday through 5:59 a.m. on Monday) and nearly once every 2 hours during the week.

  • Young adults who are 16 to 20 years old are most likely to be killed or injured when riding in passenger vehicles (as opposed to other motor vehicles).

  • In 2002, a total of 1,915 16- to 20-year-olds were killed when totally or partially ejected from a passenger vehicle.

  • In 2002, the fatality rate in motor vehicle crashes for 16- to 20-year-olds was approximately twice the rate for all ages. See Chart 9.

Chart 8 Percentage of All Occupants From Birth to Age 20 Killed or Injured in 2002
By Age, In Passenger Vehicles

Chart 8 Percentage of All Occupants From Birth to Age 20 Killed or Injured in 200 - Click to view text only versiond

Chart 9 Occupant Fatality Rates Per 100,000 Population in 2002, By Age, In Passenger Vehicles

Chart 8 Percentage of All Occupants From Birth to Age 20 Killed or Injured in 200 - Click to view text only versiond

Back to Top

Facts About Safety Belt Use

  • More than 60 percent of the 5,625 young adults ages 16 to 20 who were killed when riding in passenger vehicles in 2002 were not wearing safety belts.

  • In 2002, approximately 60 percent of the 3,448 drivers in the 16- to 20-year-old age group who were killed in passenger vehicle crashes were not wearing safety belts.

  • Young drivers are less likely to use restraints if they have been drinking alcohol. In 2002, of the young drivers who had been drinking and were killed in crashes, 77 percent were unrestrained.

Back to Top

Facts About Motor-Vehicle-Related Deaths and Injuries

  • In 2002, 16- to 20-year-old drivers had the highest fatality and injury rates per 100,000 licensed drivers. In fact, the fatality rate for young drivers was about three times the rate for drivers 25 to 64 years old.

  • In 2002, an estimated 56,053 young adults experienced incapacitating injuries. This number represents approximately 18 percent of all (302,957) incapacitating injuries.

  • In 2002, an estimated 149,645 young adults experienced nonincapacitating injuries. This number represents approximately 21 percent of all (716,246) people with nonincapacitating injuries.

  • Despite a small improvement in safety belt use for 16- to 20-year-old drivers, the percentage of fatalities in which the driver was not wearing a safety belt has remained more than 60 percent for the past 10 years. See Chart 10.

  • Drivers ages 16 to 20 have the highest involvement rates for fatalities and injuries in passenger vehicle crashes. This is especially true for male drivers in this age group. See Charts 11 and 12.10

Chart 10 Percentage of Driver Fatalities Among 16- to 20-Year-Olds, In Which Driver Was Unrestrained, 1993-2002
In Passenger Vehicles

Chart 10 Percentage of Driver 
              Fatalities Among 16- to 20-Year-Olds, In Which Driver Was Unrestrained, 1993-2002 - Click to view text only versiond

Chart 11 Driver Fatality Rates Per 100,000 Licensed Drivers in 2002
By Age and Gender, In Passenger Vehicles

Chart 11 Driver Fatality Rates 
              Per 100,000 Licensed Drivers in 2002 - Click to view text only versiond

Chart 12 Driver Injury Rates Per 100,000 Licensed Drivers in 2002
By Age and Gender, In Passenger Vehicles

Chart 12 Driver Injury Rates 
              Per 100,000 Licensed Drivers in 2002 - Click to view text only versiond

Back to Top

Self-Reported Behavior, Attitudes, and Opinions on Safety Belt Use

The following information was reported in NHTSA’s 2003 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey. This telephone survey was administered to a randomly selected national sample of 6,000 persons ages 16 and older (with younger ages over sampled).

Safety Belt Use Behavior

  • Most (79 percent) 16- to 20-year-olds reported that they wear their safety belts all of the time. An estimated 11 percent reported that they wear their safety belts most of the time.

  • Most (87 percent) 16- to 19-year-olds reported that when they were not driving, they rode in the front seat of the vehicle. However, only 49 percent said that they always wore their safety belt when riding as a passenger in the back seat, while 14 percent said they never wore their safety belts when riding in the back seat.

  • One-fourth (25 percent) of 16- to 20-year-olds reported that their use of safety belts when driving had increased in the past 12 months. (An estimated 2 percent indicated a decrease, while 73 percent indicated that use had stayed the same.)

Attitudes Toward Safety Belt Use

Among persons 16 to 24 years of age, 69 percent either strongly (51 percent) or somewhat (18 percent) agreed with the statement, “I have a habit of wearing a seat belt because my parents insisted I wear them when I was a child.”

The number dropped to 44 percent among persons ages 25 to 34 and to 26 percent among persons ages 35 to 44, reflecting the lower usage rates during their childhood years.

  • The vast majority of the public ages 16 and older either strongly agreed (88 percent) or somewhat agreed (7 percent) with the statement, “If I were in an accident, I would want to have my seat belt on.” However, about one-half (47 percent) of 16- to 24-year-olds agreed with the statement, “Seat belts are as likely to harm as to help.”

  • About one in five persons (19 percent) either strongly (13 percent) or somewhat (6 percent) agreed with the statement, “I would feel self-conscious around my friends if I wore a seat belt and they did not.” However, more than one in four (27 percent) of 16- to 24-year-olds strongly or somewhat agreed with this statement.

  • Injury avoidance was the most frequent reason given for wearing a safety belt.

  • The most common reasons given by drivers from the 16- to 20-year-old age group for not wearing safety belts were that they forgot or were driving a short distance.

  • Thirty percent of 16- to 24-year-olds agreed with the statement that a crash close to home was usually not as serious, and 27 percent agreed that putting on a safety belt makes them worry more about being in a crash.

Opinions About Safety Belt Use Laws

  • When asked whether they favor front safety belt laws, 66 percent of 16- to 20-year-olds said they favor them “a lot” and 26 percent said they favor them “some.”

  • Many (64 percent) 16- to 20-year-olds answered “yes” when asked whether police should be allowed to stop a vehicle if they observe a safety belt violation when no other traffic laws are being broken.

  • Many (65 percent) 16- to 20-year-olds favored fines for drivers who do not wear safety belts.

  • Almost half (42 percent) of 16- to 20-year-olds favored points against a license as a penalty for safety belt violations.


9When available, data on 15-year-olds are included in this section because in some States 15-year-olds are licensed to drive. However, 15-year-olds constitute only 0.2 percent of licensed drivers.

10Rates shown in Chart 10 are obtained by dividing the number of involved drivers by the number of licensed drivers.

Back to Top


Table of Contents

Introduction

The Need To Promote Occupant Restraint Use for Children, Youth, and 16- to 20-Year-Olds

Facts About Children and Youth

Facts About Young Adults Ages 16 to 20
Facts About Safety Belt Use
Facts About Motor-Vehicle-Related Deaths and Injuries
Self-Reported Behavior, Attitudes, and Opinions on Safety Belt Use
Safety Belt Use Behavior
Attitudes Toward Safety Belt Use
Opinions About Safety Belt Use Laws

Appendices

For Additional Information

Charts