Fatal crashes involving young drivers have fallen significantly over the past 20 years, according to an October 2023 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The report highlights that drivers younger than 21 are still at a substantially greater risk of death than other age ranges. However, the threat has also dropped dramatically since 2002. Let’s explore what this means for the dangers of driving on California roads.
The GHSA and Teen Driver Safety Statistics
The GHSA is a nonprofit group that represents state highway safety programs nationwide. It performs in-depth research and analyses on crash, injury, and fatality information to determine the most impactful ways to increase the safety of US roads and traffic. In its report “Young Drivers and Traffic Fatalities: 20 Years of Progress on the Road to Safety,” the GHSA analyzed a variety of data sources and found the following:
- The overall number of deaths among drivers younger than 21 fell from 3,935 in 2002 to 2,175 in 2021, a drop of 44.7%.
- At the same time, deaths among drivers 21 and older increased from 22,705 to 25,198, a rise of 11.0%.
- However, the total number of licensed drivers changed significantly in that time, with 6.1% fewer people under 21 having a license and 21.6% more adults 21 and older having a license.
- When adjusted for the number of licensed drivers, the fatality rate for young people dropped by 34.14% and 11.58% for older people.
- In 2002, young adults were 3.5 times more likely to die in a crash than older people. As of 2021, that comparative risk fell to 2.6.
In other words, while traffic fatalities are still a serious problem, the overall fatality rate is dropping significantly. Furthermore, it’s falling faster for the groups most at risk.
Are Young Drivers Getting Safer?
But why are fatality rates falling? Are young drivers being more careful on the road? Not necessarily. The GHSA identified several factors that appear to have kept people safer:
- More safety features in vehicles: The past two decades have seen massive increases in the number of safety features in the average car. Tools like electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and lane-keeping assist help reduce the risk of accidents for all drivers.
- “Teen-specific” technologies: Some manufacturers and insurers have created apps and other technology to monitor teen drivers’ behavior. These can prevent young drivers from speeding or driving without a seatbelt, reducing their risk of fatal accidents.
- Stronger education programs and licensing requirements: Increased education requirements and peer-to-peer traffic safety programs have informed the average licensed teenage driver better about common risks and how to avoid them on the road.
- Fewer teens driving: Finally, the fact that there are fewer teenagers driving means that there are fewer who can cause accidents harming themselves and others.
In short, cars are safer, young drivers are better educated, and fewer teens are feeling the pressure to get licensed as early as possible, leading to a substantial drop in fatalities.
The Risks of Teen Drivers on California Roads
Despite the trends toward safer driving, there is still a long way to go. A GHSA spokesperson states, “Young drivers are the riskiest age group on the road and the reasons are straightforward — immaturity and inexperience.”
That younger drivers are more likely to lack experience is obvious. At most, an 18-year-old can only have two to three years of formal driving experience. That is not enough time to learn how to respond to every possible risk on the road. However, older drivers can be inexperienced, too.
So why aren’t older inexperienced drivers seeing similar fatality rates? It’s because immaturity plays a substantial role, too. The Association may be referencing brain research showing that people under 21 tend to have poorer risk assessment skills and a higher risk tolerance for risky behavior. Not only are teenagers more likely to consider a dangerous driving behavior worthwhile, but they’re less able to accurately judge a behavior’s risk in the first place. That means the average teenager is more likely to do dangerous things like text or drink and drive, get behind the wheel during bad weather, or break traffic laws.
Unfortunately, these behaviors don’t just affect the risk-taking teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), teen drivers more frequently cause the deaths of their passengers and other road users. Irresponsible young drivers put themselves and everyone else on the road at higher risk of death.
What to Do If Your Loved One Dies in a Car Crash
While the decrease in fatalities is good news, there are still tens of thousands of road fatalities in the US every year. If you have lost a loved one due to a young motorist’s bad driving, you’re not alone. You can work with a skilled car accident attorney to understand your rights and options to pursue justice for your loved one’s wrongful death. For example, your attorney can help you file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased.
California law requires all car owners to carry insurance to protect other people from the financial impacts of a crash. The minimum bodily injury coverage is known as a “15/30” policy. This provides up to $15,000 in damages for one person’s injuries or death and $30,000 for two or more people’s injuries or deaths per accident. While this is the minimum, many drivers pay for higher coverage limits. You can file a claim against the negligent driver to pursue damages under these policies, such as medical bills, funeral expenses, lost financial support, and pain and suffering. If your family member was killed in a car accident with a teen driver, don’t wait to take action. Contact the experienced wrongful death attorneys at Fiore Achermann today to discuss your case.