Motor vehicle death rates rise rapidly during the teen years, and they remain very high into early adulthood. The rate for teens, however, has followed a downward trend for most of the past decade, and in 2013 was the lowest it has been in the past 30 years, at 11 deaths per 100,000 teens.
More than one-third of all teen deaths in the U.S. are the result of motor vehicle crashes. In 2013, about 2,000 youth ages 16 to 19 were killed, and approximately 240,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes.
In 2013, the majority (56 percent) of teen deaths among occupants of passenger vehicles were drivers. Teenage drivers have crash rates per mile driven that are almost three times that of drivers older than 20, with the highest rates for drivers ages 16 and 17. One study found that the risk of death for motor vehicle passengers, ages eight to 17, riding with a driver between the ages of 16 and 19, was more than 50 percent higher than for those riding with a driver over the age of 25. A number of factors related to lack of driving experience and maturity contribute to younger drivers having higher crash rates, including following other vehicles too closely, driving too fast, and violating traffic signs and signals. Other risk factors include the presence of other teenage passengers, and alcohol use. In 2013, 16 percent of young drivers involved in a fatal crash were without a valid operator’s license.
The same factors that lead to more motor vehicle crashes among younger drivers contribute to their higher death rates. The use of alcohol is especially dangerous. In 2013, one out of five teens involved in fatal crashes (19 percent) had been drinking. Teenagers are also less likely to wear seat belts than any other age group. The day of the week, as well as the time of day, are strongly associated with motor vehicle deaths among young drivers. In 2013, 54 percent of motor vehicle deaths among young drivers occurred Friday through Sunday, while 58 percent occurred between 6 pm and 6 am.
The motor vehicle death rate for teens ages 15 to 19 declined substantially between 1980 and 1992, from 42 deaths per 100,000 to 28. The fatality rate remained steady for the next decade, before steep declines resumed between 2002 and 2013, from 27 to 11 per 100,000. (Figure 1) According to analysis conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, similar significant declines in fatalities occurred in the early 1980s and early 1990s—both periods of economic recession. It is likely that the recession of 2007-2010 played a role in restricting teen driving, and reducing fatalities. Previous periods of decline were followed by a rebound in rates; however, they did not rise back to levels seen before the decline.
Much of the decline in teen motor vehicle deaths in the past 30 years has been among males, especially in the period between 1990 and 1995, when deaths among males declined while deaths among females remained nearly flat. However, there was a slight increase in motor vehicle deaths among male teens between 1999 and 2002 that was not matched among female teens. (Figure 1)
Differences by Age
Motor vehicle death rates rise dramatically during the teen years, and stay high into early adulthood. Among males, rates in 2013 were three deaths per 100,000 at age 14, and 13 at age 17, rising steeply at age 18, to 20 deaths per 100,000. There is another peak at age 21, with 28 deaths per 100,000, likely related to the legal drinking age. Age-specific rates stay high throughout the early twenties, gradually decreasing to 24 deaths per 100,000 population at age 25. Rates for females show a similar increase by age, gradually rising from two deaths per 100,000 at age 14, to 10at age 18. However, there is no large increase among females at ages 18 and 21. Deaths among young females peak at 11 deaths per 100,000 at age 19, and gradually taper off through the mid-twenties. (Figure 2)
Differences by Gender
Males are nearly twice as likely as females to die in motor vehicle traffic accidents. In 2013, the motor vehicle death rate was 14 per 100,000 for males ages 15 to 19, compared with 8 per 100,000 for females. (Figure 1) Similar gender differences exist across all racial and ethnic groups. (Figure 3)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
White and American Indian/Alaskan Native youth have the highest motor vehicle death rates of all racial or ethnic groups: 16 per 100,000, each, of white and American Indian/Alaskan Native males, respectively, and nine and seven percent, respectively, for females. Hispanic youth and black youth are less likely to die in a motor vehicle crash (13 and 12 per 100,000 for males, and six percent, each, of black and Hispanic female youth, respectively) than either White or American Indian/Alaska Native youth. In 2013, Asian/Pacific Islander youth had the lowest rates, at five deaths per 100,000 among males, and three per 100,000 among females. (Figure 3)
State and Local Estimates
The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC provides rates of motor vehicle deaths by state for
Road traffic injury death rates and absolute numbers are available by region for children ages four and under, ages five to 14, and ages 15 to 29 from the World Health Organization. (See Tables A2 and A3)
Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set a number of national goals that relate to reducing the number of motor vehicle traffic fatalities. While none of the goals focuses specifically on teenage drivers, more general goals for the entire population include: reducing the number of deaths and non-fatal injuries due to motor vehicle crashes, increasing the number of states with graduated licensing, and increasing seat belt use.
Additionally, there is a goal to reduce the number of high school students who report riding with a driver who has been drinking.
More information is available here.
What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38 and 40 percent, respectively, in fatalities and injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes among 16-year-old drivers. These programs place a variety of restrictions on young drivers that are removed as they gain experience. The stages involved in most of these programs include: a learner’s period of supervised driving; a license limiting unsupervised nighttime driving and having other teens in the car; and, finally, a license with full privileges.
All states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of GDL, though restrictions under these systems vary widely, and, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, all states can take steps to improve their systems. 
More information about GDL systems are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Seat Belt Use
- Drunk Driving
- Distracted Driving
- Unintentional Injuries
- Infant, Child, and Teen Mortality
- Life Expectancy
These data include all motor vehicle traffic deaths as determined by physicians, medical examiners, and coroners and reported on death certificates. Deaths prior to 1999 are classified using ICD-9 codes, and include codes: E810-E819, E958.5, and E988.5. Deaths from 1999 on are classified using ICD-10 codes, and include codes: V30-V39 (.4-.9), V40-V49 (.4-.9), V50-V59 (.4-.9), V60-V69 (.4-.9), V70-V79 (.4-.9), V81.1-V82.1,V83-V86 (.0-.3), V20-V28 (.3-.9),V29 (.4-.9),V12-V14 (.3-.9),V19 (.4-.6), V02-V04 (.1,.9),V09.2,V80 (.3-.5),V87(.0-.8), and V89.2. More information on ICD-10 classification is available from the CDC.
A listing of ICD-10 codes is also available here.
Data for 1981-2013: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2015). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html
Data for 1980 and by Hispanic origin for 1984-1989: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2014).America’s children: Key national indicators of well-being, 2014. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Table PHY.8B. http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/.
Raw Data Source
Mortality Data, National Vital Statistics System
Appendix 1 – Motor Vehicle Traffic Deaths per 100,000 Teens, Ages 15 to 19: Selected Years, 1980-2013
|American Indian/ Alaska Native||107.9||66.3||63.0||52.9||47.4||46.5||45.1||43.4||33.2||31.4||39.4||33.1||23.8||23.4||23.3||24.3||19.7||15.7|
|American Indian/ Alaska Native||41.7||29.6||34.8||27.2||26.8||28.2||31.0||27.4||22.1||22.4||24.4||19.3||18.8||17.4||11.5||16.5||14.0||7.1*|
|“-” = data not available.
*Estimate based on 20 or fewer cases.
Note: People of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Rates for 2000 have been revised according to Census 2000 population counts.
Sources: Data for 1980 and by Hispanic origin for 1984-1989: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2014). America’s children: Key national indicators of well-being, 2014. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Table PHY.8B. http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/. Data for 1981-2013: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2015). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html.
|Number of Deaths||Death Rate (per 100,000)||Number of Deaths||Death Rate (per 100,000)||Number of Deaths||Death Rate (per 100,000)|
|Source: Child Trends’ analysis of data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/.|
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety. [Online]. (2015). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/MotorVehicleSafety/Teen_Drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (2015). Fatality facts 2013: Teenagers. Highway Safety Research and Communications. . Retrieved 11/18/2015 from http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/teenagers/fatalityfacts/teenagers/2013.
Winston, F.K., Kallan, M.J, Senserrick, T.M., Elloit, M.R. (2008). Risk factors for death among older children and teenaged motor vehicle passengers. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine,162(3), 253-260. Available
Williams, A. F., & Ferguson, S. A. (2002). Rationale for graduated licensing and the risks it should address. Injury
Prevention, 8 (supplement 2), ii9-ii16. http://ip.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/8/suppl_2/ii9
McCartt, A. T., Shabanova, V. I., & Leaf, W. A. (2003). Driving experience, crashes, and traffic citations of teenage beginning drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 35(3), 311-320.
Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention (2011). Teen drivers: Fact sheet, Injury prevention & control: Motor vehicle safety. Retrieved 3/28/12 from http://www.cdc.gov/Motorvehiclesafety/Teen_Drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
Fell, J.C., Baker, T.K., McKnight, A.S., Brainard, K.,, Langston, E., Rider, R., Levy, D., Grube, J. (2005). Increasing teen
safety belt use: A program and literature review. Available at http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/NewDriver/TeenBeltUse/images/DOTHS809899TeenBeltUse.pdf
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (2015). Op. cit.
Longthorne, A., Subramanian, R., and Chen, C-L. (2010). An analysis of the significant decline in motor vehicle traffic
crashes in 2008. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
 Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites in this report do not include Hispanics.
Child Trends Databank. (2015). Motor vehicle deaths. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=motor-vehicle-deathsLast updated: December 2015