Driving gives teens a sense of freedom and independence from their parents. It can also free up time for parents as they are not shuttling teens to and from school, activities, or work. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2014 young drivers (15 to 20 year-olds) accounted for 5.5% (11.7 million) of the total number of drivers (214 million) in the US (National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA), 2016). However, almost 9% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes that year were young drivers (NCSA, 2016), and according to the National Center for Health Statistics (2014), motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for 15 to 20 year-olds. “In all motorized jurisdictions around the world, young, inexperienced drivers have much higher crash rates than older, more experienced drivers” (NCSA, 2016, p. 1). The rate of fatal crashes is higher for young males than for young females, although for both genders the rate was highest for the 15-20 years-old age group. For young males, the rate for fatal crashes was approximately 46 per 100,000 drivers, compared to 20 per 100,000 drivers for young females. The NHTSA (NCSA, 2016) reported that of the young drivers who were killed and who had alcohol in their system, 81% had a blood alcohol count past what was considered the legal limit. Fatal crashes involving alcohol use were higher among young men than young women. The NHTSA also found that teens were less likely to use seat belt restraints if they were driving under the influence of alcohol, and that restraint use decreased as the level of alcohol intoxication increased.
In an AAA study of non-fatal, but moderate to severe motor vehicle accidents in 2014, more than half involved young male drivers 16 to 19 years of age (Carney, McGehee, Harland, Weiss, & Raby, 2015). In 36% of rear-end collisions, teen drivers were following cars too closely to be able to stop in time, and in single-vehicle accidents, driving too fast for weather and road conditions was a factor in 79% of crashes involving teens. Distraction was also a factor in nearly 60% of the accidents involving teen drivers. Fellow passengers, often also teenagers (84% of the time), and cell phones were the top two sources of distraction, respectively. This data suggested that having another teenager in the car increased the risk of an accident by 44% (Carney et al., 2015). According to the NHTSA, 10% of drivers aged 15 to 19 years involved in fatal crashes were reported to be distracted at the time of the crash; the highest figure for any age group (NCSA, 2016). Distraction coupled with inexperience has been found to greatly increase the risk of an accident (Klauer et al., 2014).
The NHTSA did find that the number of accidents has been on a decline since 2005. They attribute this to greater driver training, more social awareness to the challenges of driving for teenagers, and to changes in laws restricting the drinking age. The NHTSA estimates that the raising of the legal drinking age to 21 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia has saved 30,323 lives since 1975.