By Jean T. Shope, MSPH, PhD | C. Raymond Bingham, PhD
The motor-vehicle crash risk of novice teen drivers is unacceptably high. This article examines the historical trends in fatal crash rates for male and female teen drivers as compared to adult drivers by both population and person-miles driven. The effect of motor-vehicle policies on teen driver crashes, characteristics of teen driver crashes, and combinations of these crash characteristics are also examined.
A framework of seven categories of influences on teen driving behavior is presented, including the following elements: driving ability, developmental factors, behavioral factors, personality factors, demographics, the perceived environment, and the driving environment. Because a complex set of different factors influence teen drivers’ behavior, comprehensive, multilevel interventions are needed to reduce teen drivers’ exposure to high-risk driving conditions and to address factors identified in the framework.
According to the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, 1 in 2004 crashes accounted for 41% of all deaths among teens aged 13–19 years in the U.S. In contrast, other unintentional injuries accounted for 15%, homicide accounted for 15%, and suicide for 14% of all teen deaths.
Awareness of the health threat posed by crashes needs to be raised among public health practitioners working with teenagers so that new interventions can be developed and existing programs can be enhanced to reduce teens’ involvement in motor-vehicle crashes.
This article summarizes data on the motor-vehicle risk of teen drivers, historical trends in teen driver crashes, the effect of policies on teen driver crashes, characteristics of teen driver crashes, and combinations of crash characteristics. Finally, this article addresses multiple factors that contribute to teen driving behaviour in a conceptual framework, and offers implications for the prevention of teen driver crashes.
In spite of the success of graduated driver licensing (GDL)and other programs, the rates of traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalitiesand the economic cost of crashes involving teen driversare unacceptably high.
Teen drivers have the highest crash rate per mile driven of any age group.Male teens have an especially high rate of fatal crashes and an even higher rate of nonfatal injury crashes. Crash rates are highest among the youngest drivers, declining with each year of increasing age but not reaching the lowest levels until after age 30.
Among teen drivers in 2000, those aged 16 years had the highest crash involvement rate—35 crashes per million miles travelled—followed by those aged 17, 18, and 19, at 20, 14, and 13 crashes per million miles travelled, respectively.Thus, per mile travelled, drivers aged 16 years had nearly three times as many crashes as did those at 19. In comparison, drivers aged 45–54 had four crashes per million miles travelled.
Fatal crashes followed a similar pattern, with drivers aged 16 having 13 fatal crashes per million miles travelled and those aged 17, 18, and 19 having eight, six, and six fatal crashes per million miles, respectively.Thus, per mile travelled, drivers aged 16 had more than twice as many fatal crashes as did those at 19. In comparison, drivers aged 45–54 years had one to two fatal crashes per million miles travelled. Fatalities are not the only lasting outcome of teen crashes.
Although youth are more resilient than adults, especially the elderly, teens who survive injuries received in crashes often experience significant deficits in quality of life, and these deficits occupy a larger portion of their lives than do injuries to older individuals.