Teen and Young Driver Safety


​​Photo of teens with a car.

​​Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for teens. Teen drivers have a disproportionately high rate of fatal crashes, mainly because of their lack of skills and experience.

In 2020, approximately 2,400 teens in the United States aged 13–19 were killed in motor vehicle crashes. This means that approximately 7 teens died every day due to motor vehicle crashes.

What tends to be their riskiest behaviors? Speeding, distracted and drowsy driving, and not buckling up—many of which are on our 2021-2023 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements​.

Teens are far more prone to make mistakes than experienced drivers, however there are strategies for improving the safety of novice drivers through policy changes and raising awareness of safe driving behaviors.

Safe Driving Behaviors (Best Practices) for Teens

Teen and Young Driver Safety Tip Card graphic.

1. Avoid Distracted Driving

Teens can be distracted by texting, talking on the phone, and having too many passengers in the car. According to research from NHTSA, dialing a phone while driving increases a teen's risk of crashing by six times. Texting while driving increases the risk by 23 times. According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, between 2007 and 2015, an average of 59% of crashes contained some type of potentially distracting behavior during the six seconds leading up to a crash. The most frequent potentially-distracting behaviors were conversation and interaction with passengers and cell phone use.

2. Do not Use Alcohol or Other Drugs

Consuming alcohol or other impairing drugs is illegal for teens, and driving under the influence of any impairing substance, such as illicit, over-the-counter, and prescription drugs, could have deadly consequences. Teens are more likely than anyone else to be killed in an alcohol-related crash. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, 24% of drivers aged 15–20 who were killed in fatal motor vehicle crashes had been drinking.

3. Avoid Speeding

Follow the posted speed limits. According to NHTSA, in 2019, speed was a factor in 27% of fatal crashes that involved passenger vehicle teen drivers (15-18 years old). A study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) also found that from 2000-2011, teens were involved in 19,447 speeding-related crashes.

4. Get Enough Sleep Before Driving

Drowsy driving is a common risk for teen drivers. Teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep for optimal health and safety. According to NHTSA, drivers age 17-23 years old are at a higher risk for a crash caused by drowsy driving. In 2019, 40% of fatal crashes among teens aged 13–19 occurred between 9 pm and 6 am, and 52% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

If you feel tired while driving, stop the car and take a nap or switch drivers. Choose a safe location to rest.

5. Buckle Up

It seems like an obvious recommendation these days when seat belt laws are required for drivers in all states (except New Hampshire); however, this is not always done—and teens are needlessly dying or getting injured. According to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) Controlled Intersection study from 2016–2019, front seat belt use among teens and young adults (16–24 years of age) was approximately 87% each year, whereas front seat belt use among adults age 25 years or older was approximately 90% or higher for each year during the same period. Additionally, passengers in the back should be encouraged to wear their seat belts. In 2019, 43.1% of U.S. high school students did not always wear a seat belt when riding in a car driven by someone else. Don’t drive away with ensuring all our buckled.

Watch the State of Teen Driver Safety Roundtable Discussion

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Graduated Driver License (GDL) Laws

GDL Tip Card graphic.

GDL laws allow teen drivers to gain driving expe​rience safely in an environment that limits the potential for risk. The NTSB continues to call for states to improve their GDL programs by directly addressing the following provisions. States should add passenger restrictions, nighttime driving restrictions, cell phone restrictions, and provisions addressing min​imum driving practice and minimum holding periods.

The NTSB advocates a 3-phase Graduated Driver License (GDL) Law with the following provisions:

Phase 1: Learner’s permit

  • 6-month minimum holding period (without an at-fault driver or traffic violation)
  • Supervised driver requirement with supervising driver age 21 or older
  • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
  • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level prohibited
  • Cell phone use prohibited while driving

Phase 2: Intermediate (provisional) license

  • 6-month minimum holding period (without an at-fault crash or traffic violation)
  • Nighttime driving restriction
  • Teen passenger restriction (zero or 1 passenger)
  • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
  • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level prohibited
  • Cell phone use prohibited while driving

Phase 3: Full licensure

  • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
  • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level by all drivers under age 21 prohibited
  • Cell phone use prohibited while driving

Watch​ the State of Graduated Driver License (GDL) Laws Roundtable Discussion

​​Collision Avoidance Technology and Teen Driver Safety

Recent research studies suggest collision-avoidance features and teen-specific vehicle technologies have the potential to prevent or mitigate up to 75% of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. Require Collision-Avoidance and Connected-Vehicle Technologies on all Vehicles is on the current 2021-2023 Most Wanted List and Teen Driving Safety has been a topic on previous Most Wanted List of Transportation Improvements. NTSB hosted a webinar on collision-avoidance technology and teen driver safety to discuss the role of vehicle technology—specifically, collision avoidance technologies (such as AEB and collision warning)—in reducing teen traffic crashes and fatalities. 

Watch the NTSB Webinar:

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