Key facts about motor vehicle death

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.


Trends in motor vehicle death

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.[1]

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)

77_fig2Differences 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[2]

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)

Other estimates

State and local estimates

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC provides rates of motor vehicle deaths by state for 1999-2013.

International estimates

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)

How to reduce motor vehicle death

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.[3]

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. [4]

More  information about GDL systems are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Data & appendices

Data sources

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

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.

Raw data source

Mortality Data, National Vital Statistics System.




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.


[1]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

[2] Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites in this report do not include Hispanics.

[3]Graduated driver licensing. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

[4]Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (2012). States could sharply reduce teen crash deaths by strengthening graduated driver licensing laws. News Release, May 31, 2012. Retrieved from

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2015).Motor vehicle deaths. Available at: