Teen Drivers

According to the latest data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of teen motor-vehicle occupant deaths increased for the first time in four years. Occupant fatalities in 2020 totaled 2,419, up 15.6% from 2,093 in 2019. Motor-vehicle crashes continue to be the number one cause of death for U.S. teens. NHTSA also estimates that the total number of deaths among teens ages 13 to 19, including pedestrian and bicycle incidents, was 2,738 in 2020 and averaging  more than seven deaths per day.

Crashes involving young drivers (15 to 20 years old) impact people of all ages. In 2020, the number of people dying in crashes involving at least one young driver totaled 5,037, a 14.7% increase from the 2019 total of 4,391. This chart shows that young driver fatalities account for only 37% of the overall fatalities associated with young driver crashes. In 2020, there were 1,885 young driver fatalities, 1,081 fatalities among passengers of young drivers, 1,486 fatalities to occupants of all other vehicles, and 585 non-occupant fatalities.

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Source: National Safety Council (NSC) analysis of NHTSA data.


Car crashes involving teens and young drivers are tragic not only because they severely injure and kill people in the prime of their lives, but because they are preventable. Driver inexperience is the root cause of these crashes. NSC believes parent involvement is the key. DriveitHOME is a free resource from NSC, created by and for parents. After identifying the risks their teens face, parents can learn concepts and methods that will help their child become more experienced and safer behind the wheel, like Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL).

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL)

A strategy shown to help prevent young driver crashes is passage and enforcement of state GDL programs, which are supported by NSC. GDL allows for a gradual phasing in of full driving privileges using a three-step process:

  • Initial learner’s permit phase
  • Intermediate, or provisional, license phase
  • Full licensure phase

One of the important components of GDL programs is a restriction on night driving. While only about 10% of trips driven by 16- and 17-year-olds occur from 9 p.m. to 11:59 p.m., 17% of their fatal crashes occur at this time. Even more dramatically, while only 1% of teen trips occur from 12 a.m. to 5:59 a.m., 13% of their fatal crashes occur at this time.

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Source: Shults, R.A. & Williams, A.F. (2016). Graduated Driver Licensing Night Driving Restrictions and Drivers Aged 16 or 17 Years Involved in Fatal Night Crashes – United States, 2009-2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016; 65: 725-730.

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