Safety Myth or Reality –Are Teenage Drivers at a Higher Risk for Crashes and Fatalities?

  • March 16, 2009
  • Blog

We frequently hear in the local news about automobile crashes and fatalities involving teenage drivers. Are teenage drivers involved in accidents more than other age groups ? Recently I had the opportunity to study reports from Virginia Commonwealth University Transportation Safety Training Center-Crash Investigative Team. The reports provide a comparison of crash frequencies and causes are examined to explore reasons why and what possible remedial actions can be taken to reduce these problems. In review of one report entitled Special Report #14: Special Report on Young Drivers Involved in Fatal Crashes(January 2001), I found that not only are teenage drivers involved in more accidents with fatalities, there also appears to be an increase in youth fatalities from motor vehicles crashes.

More drivers between 16 and 20 years of age are involved in fatal crashes than any other driver age group in Virginia. The study finds there are four major factors that contribute to increased risk: male drivers, teens accompanied by other teens, single vehicle/run-off-the road crashes and infrequent belt use among teens. Young drivers more often engage in higher risk behavior than do older drivers, and young drivers frequently crash because of driver inexperience and /or driver immaturity. Many of us remember hearing about the tragic deaths of eight people in Prince George County which occurred last year while watching street racing. A 21 year old and an 18 year old were charged with eight counts of vehicular manslaughter.

I hope, with this article, to bring your attention to this issue and these Reports . The information in the Reports can be used to assist driver education personnel, teen drivers, parents of teens, law enforcement and DMV authorities, the Virginia General Assembly and other in increasing awareness and taking appropriate countermeasures needed to better combat the problem of young people being overrepresented in fatal crashes. I urge you to look at the reports yourself.

Here is a summary of some of the information in the fatality Report cited above:

  1. The number of 15-20 year old highway fatalities occurring in 2000 has dramatically increased by 47.5 (177 vs. 120) as compared to 1999 and 60.9% (177 vs. 110) compared to 1998.
  2. The total numbers of highway fatalities (all age groups) likewise increased in 2000 about 4.9% over 1999.
  3. Of significance is the increase in the percentage of 15 to 20 year old fatalities compared to the total number of fatalities occurring on Virginia’s highways during the three most recent years: 1998, 1999, and 2000. At least 12% (110 of 934), 14% (120 of 877) and 19% (177 of 920) respectively, of those killed were in this age group. In 2000, 15-20 year olds experienced their single highest reported percentage of total highway deaths occurring during the last decade.

This special Report has many other statistics you may find interesting. A few more that should be noted are as follows:

  1. 1. Running off the road was a very common first occurrence in fatal crashes involving 15 to 20 year old drivers, especially in those crashes where they or their peers were killed (75.6%, 83.2% and 68.6%). Usually, between one-third to one half of these drivers then overcorrected. It is not surprising that single vehicle crashes were more common (64%, 75.8% and 63.5% of these fatal crashes) or that crossing left of the center line was major factor in multiple collision fatal crashes for these drivers.
  2. Consistent with past findings, most young victims were unbelted (61.8%, 65% and 62.1%) 34.5%, 22.5% and 31.1% respectively of 15 to 20-year-old fatal crash victims were ejected from the vehicles in which they were riding.
  3. The most common causal factors in all fatal crashes involving 15 to 20 year old drivers included:
    1. Excessive speed (51.9%, 52.5% and 52.4%)
    2. Driver inattention (14.3%, 28.1% and 13.7%)
    3. Driver left of center on road (16.2%, 11.5% and 9.5%)
    4. Alcohol use (18.2%, 8.6% and 12.5%)

Special Report #14 includes Highway Safety Recommendations. The entire report can be viewed at the vcu.edu–Transportation Safety Training Center -Crash Investigation Team website.