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Teen Driver Laws

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According to the National Highway Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. More than one third of all deaths of American teens, age 16- to 18-years, are caused by automobile crashes.

Graduated Licensing

Teen drivers have the highest fatal crash risk of any age group. Per mile traveled, they have the highest involvement rates in all types of crashes, from property damage those resulting in fatalities. The problem is worst among 16 year-olds, who have the most limited driving experience that often results in risk-taking behind the wheel.

Graduated licensing, under which driving privileges are phased in to restrict beginners’ initial experience behind the wheel, lowers risk situations for teen drivers. The restrictions are gradually lifted, so teenagers are more experienced and mature when they get their full, unrestricted licenses.

Graduated systems are designed to restrict night driving, limit teen passengers, set zero alcohol tolerance, and require a specified amount of supervised practice during the initial phases.

Graduated licensing laws have reduced teens’ crash rates in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

Teen Driving Statistics, from the NHTSA

Each year, more than 5,000 teens (ages 16-20) are killed in passenger vehicle crashes.

During 2006, a teen died in a traffic crash an average of once every hour on weekends and nearly once every two hours during the week.

Nationally in 2006, 25 percent of the young drivers ages 15-20 who were killed in crashes had Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels of .08 or higher at the time of the crash.

Nationally in 2006, 4,842 teen passenger vehicle occupants, ages 16 to 20, were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and 58 percent (2,813) were unrestrained at the time of the fatal crash.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), teenage drivers and passengers are among those least likely to wear their seat belts.

While all teens are at a high-risk of experiencing a fatal crash, according to NHTSA, young males, pickup truck drivers and passengers, as well as people living in rural areas are also among those least likely to buckle up.

Crash Risk Factors for Teens

Driver Error — Compared with crashes of older drivers, those of teenagers more often involve driver error.

Speeding — Excessive speed is a factor in higher crash rates among 16-year-old drivers.

Single Vehicle Crashes — More fatal crashes of teenage drivers involve only the teen’s vehicle. Typically, these involve high speed and/or driver error.

Passengers — Fatal crashes among teens are more likely to occur when other teenagers are in the car. The risk increases with every additional passenger. In 2003, 59 percent of teenage passenger deaths happened in vehicles driven by another teenager.

Alcohol — Although this is a problem among drivers of all ages, it’s actually less of a problem for drivers ages 16 and 17. In 2003, the estimated percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers of this age who had Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent was 16 percent — down 60 percent since 1982.

Night Driving — This is a high-risk activity for beginners. Per mile driven, the crash rate for teenagers driving at night with passengers is 4 to 5 times more likely than teenagers who drive alone during the day.

Low Seat Belt Use — Teenagers generally are less likely to use safety belts than adults. In 2003, 57 percent of 16- to 20-year-old passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were not wearing safety belts.