For many Florida teenagers, getting a driver’s license is a right of passage. It’s a major milestone on the path toward independence and adulthood. Unfortunately, driving comes with risks, and statistics suggest that the risks are more serious for teenage drivers.
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, drivers ages 15-19 make up only about 5% of all licensed drivers in Florida, but account for 11% of all crashes in the state. Other states can show similar percentages. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that drivers ages 16-19 have a higher rate of crashes than any other age group.
And the statistics look even worse when researchers concentrate on fatal crashes. The CDC has found that drivers ages 16-19 have a rate of fatal crashes that is almost 300% higher than that of drivers ages 20 and older. In fact, motor vehicle accidents are the single most common cause of death for teenagers in the United States. In 2020 alone, about 2,800 people ages 13-19 were killed and 227,000 were injured in U.S. motor vehicle accidents.
Researchers have identified several possible explanations for why teenage drivers face these risks. One straightforward explanation involves experience: Drivers get better over time. But it is also apparently true that drivers get better as they mature as people.
Indeed, the CDC’s research has found that the risks are greater for younger and newly licensed drivers. Per mile driven, the accident rate for 16-year-old drivers is 1.5 times higher than that of 18-19-year-old drivers.
Speeding is also a major factor. Studies suggest that teenage drivers are more likely to speed than older drivers, and speeding was a major factor in the high fatal crash rate for teenage drivers.
Distraction is also a major factor. This includes the distractions of electronic devices, which are dangers for all drivers, but perhaps especially for younger drivers. In a 2019 survey of U.S. high school student drivers, 39% said they had e-mailed or texted while driving within the previous 30 days.
But some of the most dangerous distractions don’t involve high technology. The statistics show that the accident rates for teenage drivers are worse when there are multiple teenagers in their cars. This suggests that they are distracted by the conversations of their friends.
Of course, older drivers face many of the same distractions teenage drivers do, but more experienced drivers are better at managing these distractions in order to keep themselves and others safe.