Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, and alcohol is a major contributor — 1 in 6 teenagers involved in a fatal crash in 2016 had been drinking. During this year's National Teen Driver Safety Week, AAA is highlighting newly released data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that show driving drunk is a serious problem among teen drivers.
Teen crashes by the numbers
Drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 have the highest rate of crashes, both per licensed driver and per mile, of any age group. In 2015, more than 900,000 teen drivers were involved in police-reported crashes, resulting in about 359,000 injuries and 3,516 deaths. In 2016, the number of fatalities rose to 3,599, led by Texas (339 fatalities), California (319), and Florida (288). Of those killed in teen-driver related crashes in 2016, 39 percent were teen drivers, 22 percent were the passengers of teen drivers, 28 percent were occupants of another vehicle, and 11 percent were bystanders. More than a third of the deaths (36 percent) occurred between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., the most dangerous time for teen driving.
The impact of underage drinking
On average, most American teenagers first consume alcohol at 14, which is shortly before the earliest age that most states will grant young drivers a learner's permit. This is reflected in the rates at which alcohol is involved in fatal teen crashes: While teens 18 to 19 had the highest rates of alcohol-related crashes, 15-year-olds came in with the third-highest rate.