Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of unintentional death in 2020 for the 15- to 24-year-old age group in the United States (CDC, n.d.). In 2021 some 2,116 drivers 15 to 20 years old were killed, and an estimated 203,256 were injured in motor vehicle crashes (NHTSA, 2023). In comparison with adult drivers, young drivers are substantially over-involved in crashes. In 2021 drivers 20 and under made up 5.1% of licensed drivers in the United States, yet they made up 8.5% of total drivers in all fatal crashes and 12.6% of drivers in all crashes. As shown in the figure below, drivers 15 to 20 years old have the highest involvement in fatal crashes of any age group.
Driver Involvement in Fatal Crashes Per 100,000 Licensed Drivers, 2021
As shown in the figure below, the number of young driver fatalities increases with age and then begins to decline. The rate of young driver fatalities per 10,000 licensed drivers is relatively stable among drivers 16 to 20 (from 1.4 at 16 to 1.9 at 18 and 19 then declining to 1.7 at 20).
Young Driver Fatalities, 2021
Except for drivers 80 years and older, per mile driven, young drivers are more involved in fatal crashes than older drivers. The trend has largely remained the same over the years (McCartt & Teoh, 2015). From April 2016 to March 2017 drivers 16 to 19 years old had the highest crash rate per 100 million travel miles as compared to all other age groups, except 80 years and older (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS], 2021b). Drivers 16 to 19 years old were involved in 4.8 fatal crashes per 100 million travel miles, compared to 3.3 for drivers 20 to 24, 2.3 for drivers 25 to 29, 1.4 for drivers 30 to 59, 1.3 for drivers 60 to 69, 1.8 for drivers 70 to 79, and 5.4 for drivers 80+. Of the passenger vehicle occupants 16 to 19 killed in 2021 some 62% were drivers (IIHS, 2023). Thirteen percent of all passenger vehicle fatalities were passengers of teen drivers 13 to 19. In addition, 57% of teen passenger fatalities 13 to 19 were passengers of teen drivers 13 to 19.
From 2012 to 2021, there was a 18% increase in the number of young drivers (15 to 20) involved in fatal crashes, compared to a 33% increase in all drivers involved in fatal crashes during the same period (NHTSA, 2023). The number of young drivers involved in police reported crashes decreased 2% from 2018 to 2019. Many factors likely contributed to this long-term decline in fatal crashes including teen drivers waiting longer to get licensed, the advancement in vehicle safety technology, establishment of multi-stage licensing systems, and education and enforcement of traffic laws (Alderman & Johnston, 2018; Shults, Banerjee et al., 2016).