Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet Take the Pledge!
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for 36% of all deaths in this age group (CDC 2006). However, research suggests that the most strict and comprehensive graduated drivers licensing programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, of 16-year-old drivers (Baker et al. 2007).
Occurrence and Consequences
  • In the U.S. during 2004, 4,767 teens ages 16 to 19 died of injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes. During 2005, nearly 400,000 motor vehicle occupants in this age group sustained nonfatal injuries severe enough to require treatment in an emergency department (CDC 2006).
  • The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash (IIHS 2006).
  • In 2005, teenagers accounted for 10 percent of the U.S. population and 12 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths (IIHS 2006).
  • The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers; the risk increases with the number of teen passengers (Chen 2000).
Persons aged 15 to 24, who represent only 14% of the U.S. population, account for 30% ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28% ($7 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females (Finkelstein et al. 2006).
Groups at Risk
  • In 2004, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers age 16 to 19 was more than one and a half times that of their female counterparts (19.4 per 100,000 compared with 11.1 per 100,000) (CDC 2006). However, females tend to have more property damage crashes than males.
  • Crash risk is particularly high during the first year that teenagers are eligible to drive (IIHS 2006).
Risk Factors
    • Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate hazardous situations or dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations (Jonah 1987).
    • Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next). The presence of male teenage passengers increases the likelihood of these risky driving behaviors among teen male drivers. ;”(Simons-Morton 2005).
    • Among male drivers between 15 and 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2005, 38% were speeding at the time of the crash and 24% had been drinking. (NHTSA 2006a, NHTSA 2006b).
    • 25% of ALL crashes are caused by a driver using a cell phone, making inattention or distraction one of the largest risk factors.
    • Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use. In 2005, 10% of high school students reported they rarely or never wear seat belts when riding with someone else. (CDC 2006b).
    • Male high school students (12.5%) were more likely than female students (7.8%) to rarely or never wear seat belts. (CDC 2006b).
    • Talking on a phone conversation (hands free or hand-held) is the same level of risk as driving at .08 BAC (legally intoxicated)- 4 times the risk. 
    • In 2005, 23% of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of 0.08 g/dl or higher. (NHTSA 2006b).
    • In 2005, among teen drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes after drinking and driving, 74% were unrestrained. (NHTSA 2006b).
  • In 2005, half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 54% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. (IIHS 2006).
Want to know what activity causes more distracted driving crashes than any other? If you were thinking that texting is the number one cause of distracted driving crashes, you would be wrong. Texting is one of the most dangerous driving activities to do while driving, but talking on a cell phone is much more prevalent amongst drivers and the duration of this activity typically spans the majority of the trip making it a much more common issue for the safety of other motorists.

It is also a common misconception that hands free devices are safer than holding the phone and talking; but the truth is that it has little to no effect on crash rates at all. There are over 30 independently reviewed studies that show that hands free/blue tooth devices do NOT reduce crashes caused by cell phone talkers.

One reason for this is that the loss of mobility & dexterity from holding a phone, and the seconds taken to dial a number or look one up (which is tantamount to texting), is not as large of a detriment as the distraction to your brain when you are in a conversation, which decreases your ability to perceive your surroundings and react to them as quickly or as well as you might when not on the phone. Again, the duration of the phone call is typically a good portion of the total trip making the impairment span larger amounts of time when the unexpected could occur.

How can this be you may ask? While you are talking on the phone you are also creating a mental image of the person(s) you are talking to; you are recalling time, data and events that you are discussing and you arelistening to their points while simultaneously formulating a response to them and waiting for your audible cues to interject them- and more. If the conversation is important to you or heated, you may use more of your attention on the conversation rather than on moving the car forward, which is the “default mode” your brain engages in when you are driving and severly distracted.


This condition has been labeled as “inattentive blindness”, which is a big term for a common feeling that we all know to be true. When you simply talk on a phone from your chair in your home or office, or while walking down the street, attempt to concentrate on your conversation while at the same time widening your awareness of the details of your surroundings. You will notice that the sights, sounds and reaction to movement of objects around you is decreased as you switch between the details of a remote conversation and your present surroundings. It is the same when you drive. So when a driver rolls through a stop sign or light at an intersection and says, “I never saw the light” they are right; because their brain was tied up in a conversation and for that one, critical moment missed the cues that would normally be easy to recognize.

You can actually measure this effect by actively scanning the brain using fMRI while the subject is driving on a simulator and then introducing a phone conversation (see the brain scans to the right). The top brain is the subject simply driving and the red areas are the parts of the brain that are in use while doing that task. The brain below is a the subject, still driving on a simulator but a phone conversation is introduced- up to a 37% reduction in brain activity can be observed while the person concentrates on the details of the remote conversation.

To learn more about inattention blindness, click here. Or to see a video of Dr. David Strayer talking about this phenomenom Click here.
Are you interested in taking a pledge? Many consider a pledge to be a very powerful resolution to take action on an issue. No one needs a pledge to begin driving without a cell phone or other distractions but if you want one as a symbol of your commitment to the issue then click here and to get a personalized pledge with your name on it emailed to you, ready to sign, showing others that you are committed to be being a safer driver.