Teen Driver Crashes Often Result in Someone Else Getting Killed, According to AAA Foundation Analysis

Auto Club Analysis Shows That California Teens
15–17 at Fault in 68 percent of Fatal Crashes

(LOS ANGELES, JAN. 18, 2006) — When teen drivers are involved in a fatal crash, someone else is usually the victim, according to a recent analysis of 10 years of crash data by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. A separate Automobile Club of Southern California analysis of California crash data shows that teens 15–17 years of age were at fault in 68 percent of the fatal crashes in which they were involved.

The new AAA Foundation study shows that, nationwide, young novice drivers comprise slightly more than one-third of all the fatalities in crashes in which they are involved. The remaining two-thirds of those killed are other vehicle users and pedestrians.

In California, according to the AAA Foundation analysis, 1,976 lives were lost in crashes involving young novice drivers from 1995–2004; this included 546 drivers 15–17 years old (28 percent), 700 passengers (35.4 percent), 496 occupants of vehicles operated by drivers at least 18 years of age (25 percent), and 233 non-motorists (12 percent).

"It's clear from this analysis that young drivers' lack of experience on the road is a major traffic safety issue," said the Auto Club's Driving School Manager Kathy Downing.

The AAA Foundation analysis shows that from 1995 through 2004 crashes involving 15-, 16-, and 17-year-old drivers claimed the lives of 30,917 people nationwide, of which only 11,177 (36.2 percent) were the teen drivers themselves. The remaining 19,740 (63.6 percent) included 9,847 passengers of the teen drivers, 7,477 occupants of other vehicles operated by drivers at least 18 years of age, 2,323 non-motorists.

"The tragedy of teen driver crashes goes well beyond the teen driver and their teen passengers," said Downing. "Teens too often put others at risk and when crashes involve family members — younger brothers or sisters — the teen and the entire family can suffer emotional trauma that will last a lifetime," she said. "It's also important to remember that while these statistics represent fatalities, there are many crashes that don't result in death, but do result in severe physical or mental injury or trauma to teen motorists and others."

Teen drivers also tend to be disproportionately at fault for the crashes in which they are involved. An Auto Club analysis of California data for 1995–2004 shows that teens 15–17 years of age were at fault in 68 percent of their fatal crashes. "This is well above what we'd expect given that when two drivers are involved in a crash, as is typical, there's a 50-50 chance of one of them being at fault. It's also another indication why it's so important for parents to limit teens from being exposed to dangerous driving conditions and also to manage their driving experience," said Steven Bloch, Ph.D., the Auto Club's senior research associate who analyzed the California teen crash data.

In a effort to increase teen driver safety, California made its 1998 Graduated Driver License law even tougher during the last legislative session. The law now requires teen drivers under age 18 to have their license for one year before being allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., or before being allowed to transport passengers under age 20 without an adult in the car. Teens who received their licenses before Jan. 1 will still have to follow the new law if their licenses are less than one year old.

The Auto Club says comprehensive GDL laws are the best way to increase safety not just for teen drivers but for all road users and also believes that parents play a critical role in enforcing restrictions.

"For safety's sake, parents and teens need to adhere to the GDL law's restrictions but they also need to establish strict driving rules for their teens based on their maturity and driving experience, where, with whom and when they drive, and under what weather and road conditions. These rules should cover both the time period when teens fall under GDL and also after," said Downing. "For example, teens don't have the experience to safely transport any passengers during their first year of driving, and even though exceptions to the law exist for family members, that doesn't mean significant risks don't exist when transporting siblings or others.

"Be vigilant about restricting your children from riding with a first-year teen driver. It's tempting to have different options for getting kids and teens to and from school, a job, sports practices and other events, but the risks are high," said Downing. "Parents who understand the risks should be more willing to personally drive children until teens obtain their full licenses or have gained enough driving experience to make them feel comfortable with transporting others."

Details about the California's Graduated Driver License (GDL) and its recent enhancements can be found in the Auto Club's updated Graduated Driver License brochure, "A Guide to California's Graduated Driver License" available at the Auto Club's 71 offices throughout Southern California, by going to www.aaa.com, or by calling 1-800-541-5552. The brochure is available in English and Spanish.

AAA-sponsored Graduated Driver License laws now exist in all 50 states. AAA also introduced a new driving school curriculum, Licensed To Learn, based on analysis of 2,500 teen driver collisions and why teens crash. This curriculum is in use at the Auto Club's Driving School which operates in 13 local Auto Club offices.

The national teen driver crash data analysis was conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The Foundation analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from 1995 through 2004, identifying and describing all fatal crashes involving 15–17-year-old drivers of passenger vehicles.