Teen Car Crash Deaths Decline

Graduated Driver Licensing Programs May Be Behind Dip in Teenage Traffic Deaths, Researchers Say

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Oct. 21, 2010 -- Teenage traffic deaths declined nearly 17% in 2009 from 2008 for youths aged 15 to 19, the CDC says in a new report. That’s about 500 fewer deaths, for a total of about 3,000.

The CDC, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for Oct. 22, says that the traffic death rate has improved partly because of graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs. Such programs extend the period for learner’s licenses, place driving restrictions on young drivers, and limit the number of passengers allowed in their vehicles.

Not only did the national teenage traffic death rate decline in 2009 for 15- to 19-year-olds, but drivers aged 16 and 17 involved in fatal crashes declined 38% between 2004 and 2008, to a rate of 16.7 per 100,000 people, the MMWR report says.

Teen Drivers More at Risk in Some States Than Others

Still, teen traffic death rates vary widely among states, the CDC says.

The five-year annualized death rate for 16- to 17-year-olds involved in fatal crashes from 2004 to 2008 was 9.7 per 100,000 in New York, but 59.6 per 100,000 in Wyoming.

Wyoming also had the highest fatality rate from all crashes involving passenger vehicles in 2008, at 24.8 per 100,000. Massachusetts had the lowest at 4.9.

Authors of the article in the MMWR describe the trends as “encouraging” but point out that motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers.

CDC Launching Programs to Help Teen Drivers, Their Parents

The CDC says it is launching a new campaign called “Parents are the Key” during “National Teen Driver Safety Week” Oct. 17-23, to help teens and their parents head off accidents. For their report in the MMWR, researchers analyzed data from the Fatality Analysis Report System for 2004-2008.

Among findings:

  • 9,644 drivers aged 16 or 17 were involved in fatal vehicle crashes.
  • 4,705 crashes, or 50%, involved one vehicle.
  • 3,976 involved two vehicles.
  • 813 involved three or more vehicles.
  • 87% of the crashes resulted in one fatality, 10% resulted in two fatalities, and 3% resulted in three or more fatalities.
  • Drivers made up 37% of deaths, and 31% of fatalities were passengers of those drivers.
  • 18% of deaths were drivers of other vehicles, and 7.3% or 805 were passengers in those other vehicles.
  • 728 or 6.7% of the fatalities were other road users such as bicyclists or pedestrians.
  • 65% of drivers 16-17 involved in fatal crashes were male, or 6,280.
  • 36% of the drivers, or 3,429, were reported to be speeding at the time of the crash.
  • Blood alcohol concentration was measured in 46%, or 4,459, of the fatal crashes. Of the drivers, 947 had a positive blood alcohol concentration.
  • Of drivers who had been drinking, 678 or 72% had blood alcohol content levels of 0.08 grams per deciliter, a standard measure indicating the person is above the legal limit for drivers 21 and older. Drivers under 21 who can’t buy alcohol legally are subject to lower blood alcohol content levels in every state.


The MMWR article also states the rate for drivers 18 and older involved in fatal crashes declined 20% from 2004 to 2008.

CDC researchers say some of the decrease may be caused by declines in the number of miles driven, perhaps because of rising gasoline prices and poor economic conditions.

The MMWR authors say the 2004-2008 decline in teen crash fatalities extends a long-term downward trend that started in 1996. The authors credit graduating learning programs for much of the improvement. Such programs operate in 49 states plus Washington, D.C., and all include nighttime driving restrictions.

The CDC recommends that families of newly licensed teens actively enforce restrictions of graduated training programs. The CDC also says increased use of seat belts and reductions in driving under the influence of alcohol have contributed to declines in deaths of teens in crashes.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on October 21, 2010



Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Oct. 22, 2010; vol 59: no 41.

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