What is the #1 Leading Cause of Death Among Teens in the US?

leading cause of death amongst teensYou may be surprised to learn that the leading cause of death amongst teens in the United States is death from motor vehicle accidents. This statistic makes up nearly three-quarters of all deaths from unintentional injury in teens. In 2014, there were 2,138 teens that were killed in crashes. Of these, 67% were drivers and 33% were passengers. Up until 2014, the rate of teen driver deaths had decreased; however, in 2014 the death rate increased again and continues to do so.

As bad as that statistic is, there are concrete methods that parents can use to reduce the chances of your teen being in a car accident at all. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing those concrete methods that have been determined to reduce teen car accidents.

To begin with, generally speaking, there are many fatal car accidents that are not caused by teenagers.  Examples of these accidents include accidents caused by highway defects or poor maintenance of highways, such as lack of a guard rail that could prevent actions taken by a driver to evade a wreck. Also, there are many car wrecks that kill or injure teen drivers that are the fault of other drivers who are operating a car in a reckless or negligent fashion.

But if we focus just on car wrecks that are the sole fault of a teen aged driver, we see some interesting contributing factors.

Males vs. Females

Male teens make up nearly three-quarters of teen driver deaths. Males also typically suffer more serious injuries than females. Statistics show that the risk of a fatal crash by a teen driver is nearly 3 times higher if their passenger is male. This difference may be partially explained by the fact that teen males are less likely to wear a seat belt whether driving or riding in a vehicle and more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol.

High Risk Behaviors

There are six high risk behaviors of new drivers that contribute to this being the leading cause of death amongst teens. These behaviors include: not wearing a seat belt every time, speeding, driving under the influence, driving distracted, driving with teen passengers and nighttime driving. The most common of these are nighttime driving, driving with passengers and speeding. The reason most teens gave as to why they engaged in risky behaviors was related to being distracted by electronic devices, changing music while driving, or being influenced by their peers.

1) Seat belt use – four out of every ten drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2014 were not wearing a seat belt.

2) Speeding – the likelihood of a crash and the severity of injuries as a result can increase by speeding. Teen drivers ages 16-19 had the greatest frequency of fatal crashes in the years 2007 – 2011.

3) Driving under the influence – being intoxicated, a state in which a person’s normal capacity to act is inhibited by alcohol or drugs, increases the risk of a motor vehicle crash. In 2014, 17 percent of teen drivers killed in a crash had alcohol in their bloodstream when tested.

4) Distracted Driving – distractions include any activity that is not essential to operating a car in a safe manner, including the use of electronic devices, eating and drinking, applying makeup, changing the radio, etc. In particular, texting is associated with dangerous lane changing, speeding, driving too close to the vehicle in front of you and looking away from the road.

5) Driving with Passengers – As an additional potential for distraction, the presence of passengers in the vehicle can increase a new driver’s risk of crash. Research estimates that the as the number of passengers increase, so can the increase of a fatal crash.

6) Nighttime driving – teens aged 16 – 19 are three times more likely than adults to crash while driving at night. Males are twice as likely to crash at night over females. In 2014, 41 percent of the fatal crashes in teen drivers happened between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am.

Here is a copy of the Teen Driving Report courtesy of Safe Kids

These behaviors are all preventable as a driver becomes more experienced. Therefore, we need to continue to educate our new drivers as they learn this new skill.  As with anything, practice makes perfect.