Teen Driver Report – The States with the Most and Least Teenage Driving Fatalities
Every year, thousands of young people die in vehicle accidents, and many more suffer injuries as a result of motor vehicle collisions. For years, traffic crashes have been the top reason for teenage death in the United States.
In April 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released 2021 data, which estimated that 2,109 drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were killed in crashes. This was an increase from 1,885 drivers of the same age range who were killed the previous year.
The Zutobi team took a deep dive into the topic. First, we examined what factors contributed to teen deaths on the road including drinking while under the influence (DUI), speeding, distracted driving and other causes. Then, we ranked each state from best to worst and reported the number of deaths per 100,000 teen drivers per state. Our team also looked at the historical statistics, which showed a steady decline from 1982 to recent years and considered what programs and initiatives may have contributed to the decrease. In recent years, the number of teen fatalities have gone up again, and we explored possible reasons for the recent climb as well. Finally, we consider ways to improve teen driving safety and training in hopes of lowering this number in the future.
What are the main causes of fatal teen driving accidents?
Young drivers are at greater risk for accidents, injuries, and death as a result of motor vehicle crashes because of their inexperience and immaturity. That’s why many states have more stringent laws for teen drivers in an effort to provide greater protection. Top causes of fatalities are:
- Alcohol Consumption: Although alcohol usage is illegal for those under 21 years of age, young drivers’ consumption of alcohol remains a large reason for teenage traffic fatalities, with 588 teen drivers killed in DUI crashes in 2021. According to multiple studies gathered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), more young people die in fatal crashes when the drinking age is lowered.
- Speeding continues to be a major factor contributing to teenage traffic fatalities in the United States. According to new data, in 2021 alone, a concerning number of 1,942 teen drivers lost their lives in speeding-related crashes. These tragic statistics highlight the need for heightened awareness and effective measures to address the dangers of exceeding speed limits among young drivers.
- Distracted Driving: Teenagers are naturally distracted individuals, so it’s no surprise that distracted driving is a top cause of traffic fatalities for teens. Distracted driving involves doing another activity while driving including texting, calling friends, eating, talking with other passengers, and putting on makeup. Speaking on a mobile phone while driving doubles the crash risk, while texting increases the crash risk by up to six times. In 2021, 368 teens were killed in motor vehicle accidents due to distracted driving.
|State||Impaired / Drunk Driving||Distracted Driving||Speeding|
|District of Columbia||1||0||2|
The states with the most teenagers killed in traffic accidents
For the second year in a row, Kentucky has the most teenage driving fatalities in the country, with 72.43 deaths per 100,000 teenage drivers.
The second worst state is Montana (58.47), followed by Mississippi (57.45), Vermont (50.82), North Carolina (43.52), New Mexico (39.50), Louisiana (38.40), Florida (33.06), South Carolina (32.79), and Arkansas (31.81).
The states with the least teenagers killed in traffic accidents
The complete list of teenage traffic fatalities, by state
|States||Male Teen Drivers Killed In Crashes||Female Teen Drivers Killed In Crashes||Total Teenage Drivers Killed in Crashes||Teen Driver Fatalities per 100,000 Licensed Teens|
What caused the steady decline in teenage deaths in past years?
According to the NHTSA, “drinking and driving in the United States, as measured by alcohol involvement in fatal crashes in NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), decreased substantially from 1982 to 1998” and this decrease was led by young drivers under the age of 21.
The report noted that the number of young drivers in fatal crashes with a positive blood alcohol content (BAC) dropped 61 percent, from 4,393 in 1982 to 1,714 in 1998. While 43 percent of young drivers in fatal crashes had a positive BAC in 1982, only 21 percent did in 1998.
Both high school and college students were self-reporting less drinking in a variety of surveys, which was fairly uniform across the country. Drinking and driving has become less socially acceptable among youth, which has separated the two activities and may have contributed to the decrease.
In addition, 36 states raised their minimum legal drinking age to 21 between 1982 and 1987. By 1988, MLDA was in effect in all states, which reduced alcohol availability and increased negative consequences for its use.
Another factor that may have played a role in reducing the number of teen fatalities specifically from alcohol is the fact that all states and the District of Columbia adopted zero tolerance laws between 1990 and 1998. Zero tolerance laws set a maximum BAC of 0.02 or less for drivers under age 21 and suspends or revokes an offender’s driver’s license.
Finally, many communities have conducted extensive youth drinking and driving educational programs in the past two decades. Insurance companies, automobile manufacturers, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and others have also ramped up public education on the subject.
Although there is no direct evidence that any of these programs have changed behavior, the fact remains that the number of teen traffic fatalities decreased during the same time period.
What is causing the current increases we’ve seen lately?
Interestingly, the number of fatalities among young people has risen again in recent years.
Some studies indicate this could be related to speeding. However, Lukas Waldenback, co-founder of Zutobi, a global EdTech company providing driver’s education, the recent increase may be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve seen a 25 percent increase in teen driver fatalities post-pandemic between 2019 and 2021, even though people drove fewer miles during the lockdowns,” he noted. “Teenagers tend to have less experience and engage in riskier behaviors, which may have increased even more during the pandemic, contributing to the increase.”
|Year||Total deaths||Young drivers (ages 15 to 20)||Passenger fatalities of young drivers|
How can this be improved?
Studies have shown that teenage drivers are much more likely to be involved in a serious road accident from the moment they start driving without the supervision of a licensed driver. Many of these accidents can be attributed to alcohol, distracted driving, speeding, and lack of scanning. This suggests a changed behavior when driving alone, which may be due to overconfidence and insufficient or poor driver education, among other reasons.
Teenage drivers need to understand the reason why they must follow driving safety practices, not just the fact that they exist. Furthermore, teenage drivers should study to become safe and responsible drivers, not just to pass the permit test. Unfortunately, it’s often the other way around.
Creating a proper foundation at an early stage is pivotal when it comes to making safe drivers and reducing the number of teenagers killed in driving accidents.
Most of the injury data has been gathered using the NHTSA crash data tool, and the Fatality and Injury Reporting System (FIRST). To find the number of licensed teen drivers, we looked at data from the Federal Highway Administration.
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