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AAA: Teen drivers 3 times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes

Risks of the road decrease with experience

The crash rate of drivers ages 16-17 was nearly double that of drivers ages 18-19 in 2015, according to AAA.

Teen drivers 16-17 years old are nine times as likely as adult drivers to be involved in a crash and three times as likely to be involved in an accident that results in a death. 

And distracted driving, such as texting or talking on a cellphone, played a role in six out of 10 crashes involving the youngest, least experienced drivers.

Those are some of the findings from a recent study of crash rates by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which warns that deadly accidents involving teen drivers increase substantially between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when they are out of school and on the road.

“The Foundation’s research found that inexperience paired with greater exposure on the road could create a deadly combination for teen drivers,” said Dr. David Yang, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety executive director. 

The foundation's study, "Rates of Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age," analyzed data on police-reported car crashes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Researchers learned that the number of drivers involved in police-reported crashes increased by 4.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, and the number involved in fatal crashes increased by 9.0 percent. 

The number of drivers ages 16-17 years old involved in fatal crashes increased more than 10 percent during that period. Researchers also found that, for every mile driven, young, inexperienced drivers are:

  • 9 times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a crash;
  • 6 times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a fatal crash;
  • 5 times as likely as drivers 30-59 to be involved in a crash;
  • 2 times as likely as drivers 30-59 to be involved in a fatal crash;

The data show that, by most measures, the youngest drivers pose the greatest risk to themselves and others on the road. The exception is drivers age 80 and over, who are more likely to die while behind the wheel from a crash than all other age groups. But, the study emphasized, the elevated risk of death for the oldest drivers was a factor of their age, not because their risk of an accident was higher.

As for the youngest drivers, the factors most common in deadly crashes are:

  • Distracted driving: Six out of 10 teen crashes involved talking to passengers in the vehicle, interacting with a smart phone and other distractions -  four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. 
  • No seat belts: In 2015, six out of 10 teen drivers killed in a crash were not wearing a safety belt, which significantly reduces the risk of dying or being seriously injured in a crash.
  • Speed: In nearly 30 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers, driving over the limit was a factor.

AAA says parents have the greatest influence on their children's driving habits. The group recommends they talk to kids about distractions and speeding; minimize their own risky behaviors when behind the wheel; and set family rules of the road.

“Parents are the front line of defense for keeping our roads safer this summer,” said Jennifer Ryan, AAA Director of State Relations. “It all starts with educating teens about safety on the road and modeling good behavior, like staying off the phone and buckling your safety belt.”

To read the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, click here.