Are teens more likely to die in a car accident than adults?

Some Good News: Falling Numbers

Although the statistics involving teen drivers and fatal car accidents are appalling, the number of teens killed on American highways has decreased significantly since 2002. From 2002 to 2011, driver fatalities among 15 to 20 years old declined from 3,838 to 1,987, a reduction of almost 50 percent [source: NHTSA].

Experts say there are several ways for teens to become safe drivers. One of the most effective methods has been the graduated driver licensing (GDL) program. The program is a three-stage process that teenagers must go through before receiving their driver's license. The first, or "learner," stage involves supervised driving with an adult for six months or longer. The second, or "provisional," stage, involves unsupervised driving with certain restrictions, such as a prohibition against driving at night. The final stage involves unrestricted driving. The goal of a GDL program is to provide young, inexperienced drivers with more supervision during their first few months on the road than they normally would have [source: AAA Foundation].

Fifty states and the District of Columbia have some version of a GDL program. The results have been amazing. According to AAA, some states have reported a 34 percent reduction in the number of personal injury accidents among 16-year-old drivers, and a 19 percent drop in fatalities. Across the U.S, fatal crashes have dropped by between 6 and 11 percent for drivers 15 through 17 [source: AAA Foundation].

Minimum drinking age requirements have also slowed the death trend. One study suggests that minimum drinking age laws, which make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy or possess alcohol, have led to an 11 percent drop in alcohol-related fatalities. Moreover, the study, by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, found that states that have stringent laws against fake IDs reported a 7 percent drop in alcohol-related fatalities among drivers younger than 21 years old.

Zero tolerance laws also have an impact. Such laws prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from operating a motor vehicle with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. One 1990s study of 12 states with zero tolerance laws found a 20 percent decline in the proportion of single-vehicle, nighttime, fatal car crashes compared to 12 states without zero tolerance laws [source: NHTSA].

While the numbers are decreasing, more work needs to be done. At least society is on the right road.

More to Explore