Newly released research shows that fatal crashes involving young drivers have fallen nearly 40% in the 20 years ended in 2022.
The dramatic decrease came thanks to several programs and policies that have been put in place across the country, said the Governors Highway Safety Association, which compiled the data and recommended a sixth program to build on the gains.
The association said fatal crashes involving drivers younger than 21 fell 38% in the 20-year period and improved in all but three states and Washington, D.C. They increased nearly 8% for drivers 21 and older during the same period. It said young drivers are almost four times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes but that the fatality rate fell steeply. Deaths of young drivers dropped about 45% while they rose 11% for drivers 21 and older.
Members of the younger cohort are less likely to drive now than 20 years ago, but the group said that fact accounts for a small part of the decrease.
“Young drivers are the riskiest age group on the road, and the reasons are straightforward – immaturity and inexperience,” said report author and association Senior Director of External Engagement Pam Shadel Fischer, whom it described as a national teen-driver safety expert.
Fischer pointed out that human brains aren’t fully developed at the younger driving ages, particularly the areas that control risk assessment and decision-making to help prevent crashes, and the consequences affect all age groups.
“In 2021, 63% of the people killed in crashes involving a young driver were their passengers, occupants of other vehicles or pedestrians or bicyclists,” she said.
The group credits five advancements for the improvements in young-driver safety: graduated driver license programs; parents’ involvement in monitoring and coaching young drivers; driver-education; peer-to-peer traffic safety education; and safer vehicles, including technologies like blind-spot monitors and lane-keeping assistance.
It recommends building on those policies and programs and adding training on the newer vehicle technologies to driver education.