Other Youth Topics

Youth Most At Risk

Based on the statistics it is clear that all youth are at risk for being involved in traffic-related crashes. Some factors such as age, experience, gender, and personality increase this risk.

Age and Experience

Developmental research suggests that teen drivers do not always realize the consequences of their actions because areas of the brain responsible for making well-grounded decisions and judgments are not fully developed until about age 25 (Keating, 2007). Because of this immaturity, youth are more likely to take risks such as speeding, tailgating, driving while distracted, and driving without a seatbelt. This, coupled with a lack of driving experience, increases the likelihood that younger drivers will be involved in crashes and will be injured if they are in a crash.

In addition to the propensity to take risks, research has identified different visual scanning behaviors for new, young drivers compared to more experienced, older drivers. This may limit the ability of younger, novice drivers to detect high-risk situations (NHTSA, 2008b) and make it less likely that young drivers recognize and respond correctly to hazards and unexpected situations that might occur while driving (Shope & Bingham, 2008). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) (2009) suggests that, compared to older, more experienced drivers, even small emergencies are more likely to escalate when a youth is driving. Specifically,

  • the crash rate per mile driven is twice as high for 16-year-olds as it is for 18- to 19-year-olds (IIHS, 2009), and
  • according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teens are more likely to be involved in a crash during their first year of independent driving (2010a).


Both males and females are at risk for being involved in motor vehicle crashes, but the risk is substantially higher for male teen drivers (NHTSA, 2009). Specifically, from 2004 to 2008, 65 percent of drivers aged 16 or 17 years (6,280 individuals) involved in fatal crashes were male (CDC, 2010a). Boys are more likely to speed (NHTSA, 2008a), drive after drinking (CDC, 2010b), and are less likely to wear a seatbelt (CDC, 2010b) than girls.


Research (Shope & Bingham, 2008) suggests that some personality factors are related to riskier driving behaviors for youth and an increased likelihood of being involved in a traffic incident or crash. These include youth who have

  • a risk-taking propensity or sensation-seeking personality;
  • a predisposition to hostility and aggression;
  • a susceptibility to peer pressure;
  • high levels of confidence and a sense of adventure; and
  • a higher tolerance to deviance (i.e., they don’t consider deviant behavior wrong).

Further, certain behaviors that youth engage in have also been found to be associated with a predisposition to risky driving behavior and motor vehicle crashes. Youth who engage in antisocial behavior and report early access to and use of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs are at a higher risk for involvement in motor vehicle crashes. In contrast, teens who receive better grades in school tend to engage in less risky behavior and have lower involvement in crashes (Shope & Bingham, 2008).


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2010a). Drivers Aged 16 or 17 Years Involved in Fatal Crashes—United States, 2004–2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 59(41), 1329-1334. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5941a2.htm?s_cid=mm5941a2

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2010b). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/index.htm

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (2009). Fatality facts: Teenagers 2008. Arlington (VA): The Institute. Retrieved from http://www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts_2008/teenagers.html

Keating, D. P. (2007). Understanding adolescent development: Implications for driving safety. Journal of Safety Research, 38(2), 147-157.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2009). Motor vehicle occupant and motorcyclist fatalities by age group, 1994 – 2008. Fatality analysis reporting system (FARS). Retrieved from http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Trends/TrendsOccupants.aspx

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2008a). Speeding. Traffic Safety Facts. Washington (DC): NHTSA. Retrieved from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811166.PDF (PDF, 12 pages)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Office of Behavioral Safety Research. (2008b). Teen driver crashes: A report to Congress. Washington, DC: Compton, R. P., & Ellison-Potter, P.

Shope, J. T., & Bingham, C. R. (2008).Teen driving: Motor-vehicle crashes and factors that contribute. American Journal of Prevention Medicine, 35(3S), S261-S271.


Other Resources on this Topic

Technical Assistance

Youth Topics

Youth Voices