10% Spike in Young Driver Fatalities – Advocates’ Call to Action During National Teen Driver Safety Week

  • October 17, 2016
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety


Contact:  Allison Kennedy, 202.408.1711, akennedy@saferoads.org


Young Driver Fatalities Up 10% in 2015

Motor Vehicle Crashes are #1 Killer of Teens

Yet, No State Has an Optimal Comprehensive Teen Driving Law, a Proven Lifesaver

Governors and Lawmakers Should Make Enactment of Teen Driving Laws a Top Priority to End this Preventable Public Health Crisis

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) As we kick off National Teen Driver Safety Week, it is a heart-rending fact that more than 80 people will be killed this week in teen driver related crashes.  Moreover, the number of young drivers 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes increased by 10% from 2014 to 2015, and the number of young drivers who died in fatal crashes also increased by 10% during that time (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)).  Yet this past year, no state enacted or improved upon their graduated driver license (GDL) laws.  October provides an opportunity to draw attention to this problem, but next January when new legislative sessions commence is an opportunity to solve the problem by enacting comprehensive laws.

While every state has a GDL law, no state has all of the successful elements of a comprehensive law, as reported in Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s (Advocates) 2016 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws. Comprehensive laws restrict nighttime hours teens can drive unsupervised; limit the number of teen passengers in the car; prohibit the use of a cell phone while driving; require supervised driving hours; and, set 16 as the minimum age for a learner’s permit and 18 as the minimum age for an unrestricted license. States with the strongest GDL laws are CT, DE, DC, IL, IN, KS, MA, MI, NJ, NY, NC, OH and RI. The states with the weakest GDL laws are AL, AZ, MS, NE and SD.

Several states with the most urgent need for upgrades to their GDL laws neglected to do so this year:

  • Arizona’s GDL law remains one of the weakest in the nation, and the legislature, once again, failed to advance bills to restrict teen driver use of cell phones, and a nearly decade long effort to enact a texting ban was not considered.  In fact, an attempt to weaken the already inadequate GDL law occurred but was fortunately defeated.
  • The number of young drivers involved in fatal crashes spiked nearly 35% in Alabama in 2015. Minimally, the state’s suboptimal nighttime and passenger restrictions, as well as the rear seat belt requirement, should be upgraded next session to better protect Alabama’s inexperienced teen drivers and back seat passengers.
  • Despite Florida having the third highest number of fatalities in crashes involving young drivers, the legislature failed to advance a bill to upgrade the texting ban or to offer a bill to enact a GDL cell phone ban during the 2016 legislative session.
  • Young drivers involved in fatal crashes jumped nearly 22% in Nebraska in 2015, yet the legislature failed to enact a single bill to directly address young driver safety. The Nebraska Roadway Safety Act should be reintroduced and enacted to ensure a primary seat belt law, upgraded GDL provisions, and better protected teen drivers.

Even states with some elements of a comprehensive GDL laws have serious gaps and are lacking critical protections:

  • Teen driver fatalities spiked 26% in Maryland in 2015, considerably higher than the increase in overall traffic fatalities. Improvements to the state’s nighttime and passenger restrictions are vital next session.
  • California ranked second for most young driver involved fatalities in 2014. Efforts needed to address this high number include upgrading the GDL cell phone ban to primary enforcement as well as ensuring that older novice drivers benefit from research driven GDL programs.
  • The number of young drivers involved in fatal crashes spiked 17% in Washington in 2015. Last session, the state legislature made a push to upgrade the nighttime and passenger restrictions but it was ultimately unsuccessful. These vital improvements should be advanced in 2017.

Teen drivers are far more likely to be involved in fatal crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks.  Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teens in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On average, nearly five young drivers were killed in the United States every day in 2014 as a result of motor vehicle crashes. That year, 4,272 people were killed in crashes involving young drivers aged 15 to 20.  Additionally, overall traffic fatalities continue to rise.  According to NHTSA, preliminary figures for the first half of 2016 indicate 17,775 people were killed in crashes, a more than 10% increase in traffic fatalities over the same period in 2015.

Young driver reckless behaviors are evidenced in the cold, hard facts — in fatal crashes involving 15-20 year olds in passenger vehicles in 2014, over half (54%) of young drivers killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts; 26% of young drivers had alcohol in their system; 36% of 15- to 20-year-old male drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding, the highest among all age groups; and, 313 people were killed in crashes involving distracted teen drivers (age 15-19 years).

This National Teen Driver Safety Week, Advocates urges Governors and lawmakers to make enactment of teen driving laws a top priority.  Further delays are a death sentence for novice teen drivers and those on the roads with them.  Comprehensive GDL laws protect teen drivers and prevent needless tragedies.