By on March 4, 2021


Teen drivers aged 16-19 and their passengers accounted for speeding-related fatalities in greater proportions than any other age group, said the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in analyzing data over a five-year period from 2015 to 2019.

During that time, 4,930 teen drivers and their passengers died in 43 percent of speeding-related crashes, versus 30 percent of drivers in all other age groups. The GHSA’s report released last month, Teens and Speeding: Breaking the Deadly Cycle, analyzed the driver’s sex, inability to control the vehicle, and likelihood that the driver and occupants are buckled or not.


Speed kills. Speeding caused the death of approximately one-third of all fatalities in motor vehicle crashes. The higher incidence among 16-19 year-old drivers is due primarily to their inability to react to risky situations and speeding only exacerbates the problem. The GHSA says this isn’t because they’re not taught to mind traffic conditions or speed limits, it is due to years of having seen their parents or other adults speeding, whether it was intended to reach a certain destination in time, or to keep pace with traffic conditions, even if it meant exceeding speed limits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens in the U.S.


Lack of experience among 16-17 year-old teen drivers equates to the highest risk of fatalities in a crash, while those 18-19 year-olds are shown to crash later at night, midnight to 5 a.m., and on highways or freeways. If you recall your parents telling you not to take friends along for the ride, it’s because the risk for teen drivers to be involved in a speeding-related fatal crash increases as you add more riders. Teen drivers are a danger to others on the road, with the highest risk of death to their own passengers, occupants of vehicles caught up in a crash, and others like pedestrians and cyclists.


In every age group where fatalities due to speeding occurred, males accounted for the highest proportion, although the disparity diminished with age. Among those 16-19 teenage drivers involved in those crashes, 36-percent were identified as males, and 28-percent as females.


Departures, where the rubber no longer meets the road, when coupled with speeding, were a factor in 71-percent of the crashes involving 16 and 17-year old drivers. While notable, the GHSA did say that even in the 50-and-over age group, the safest when compared to all other groups, it’s still 52-percent, an indication that it’s never good when you take an unintended off-highway excursion. Rollovers that occur while speeding, and that result in fatalities, are highest among 16-year olds at 41-percent, dropping to 35 percent by age 17, and declining from there.

Buckling up isn’t just the law. Almost half of all teen drivers killed while speeding were unrestrained, and as teens aged and became more confident in their driving skills, the number of fatalities for unrestrained teen drivers 16 years of age went from 123, to 242 at age 17, 331 at age 18, and 374 at age 19 during the study period.

What’s astounding is that there has been a spike in crashes during the pandemic, and speeding on highways with less congestion due to COVID-19 is cited as a causal factor in motor vehicle deaths during this time. In the metro area in which I live, I assumed it was inattention or driving under the influence when hearing of crashes occurring on uncrowded roadways, especially freeways where traffic cams were showing hardly any motorists whatsoever. Not so said the GHSA, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 11,260 people were killed on U.S. roadways in the third quarter of 2020, a 13.1% increase compared to the same period in 2019. Looking at the first nine months of 2020, the data shows that 28,190 people died in crashes, a 4.6% increase from the year before. Traffic deaths rose even though there were fewer drivers on the road due to the pandemic.

Another cause that was unforeseen is the amount of time parents have had to train their teenage drivers during the pandemic. Again, you might assume that in working from home, they would have more time rather than less, but in reality, increased demands on their time and a higher workload have led to a reduction in training time. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that teens with actively-involved parents were 50-percent less likely to be involved in a crash, 71-percent less likely to drive under the influence, and 30-percent less likely to use a cell phone when driving, as compared to teens with parents who were uninvolved. These teens were also 50-percent more likely to buckle up.

[Images: Governors Highway Safety Association]

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24 Comments on “Teen-Spirited Driving Increases During the Pandemic [Updated]...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Almost half of all teen drivers killed while speeding were unrestrained”

    I will never understand why people think they can get away with this.

    Buckling up was trained into me as a kid in the 60s, when my dad had seatbelts added to his 62 Beetle. It’s a 5-second effort that can save your life or reduce injury, but I guess lots of people are smarter than that. In time, we trained our kids to wear them also. I guess parents aren’t doing this?

    Besides, my car has an annoying alarm that sounds if you or the front passenger don’t have seatbelts fastened. But it’s a 2019 and many older cars don’t have this feature.

    I’ve been in countless crashes, and the seatbelt nearly always prevented me from bouncing around the cabin. Why get a bloody nose from a fender bender?

    • 0 avatar

      Seat belt buzzers and warning lights have been mandated for decades now.

      Heck there was a brief time in the 70’s when by law cars had to have seat belt interlocks that would prevent the car from starting if the seat belt wasn’t buckled.

    • 0 avatar

      I buckle up since day I was born. But in Russia or Soviet Union buckling up considered too radical and unmanly (like wearing mask) even in 1990s. I remember driver of the car where I was a passenger (en route to Moscow) didn’t buckle up but pretended to do it so from outside it looked as if he was buckled up, to avoid ticket. When I asked him isn’t it easier to actually buckle up than imitate he told be that he does not trust government, he feels free without buckling up, his dad and grandpa never buckled up and that law was forced on Russia by the West to enslave Russian.

    • 0 avatar

      You can teach them incredibly well, and they’ll still ignore it. Kids do stupid s**t…because, kids. No better explanation, unfortunately.

  • avatar

    “Among those 16-19 teenage drivers involved in those crashes, 36-percent were males, and 28-percent were females.”

    What sex were the other 36%?

    SCE to AUX,

    Same here about seat belts in the sixties. I never drive or ride in a car without a seat belt. It’s not because of anything altruistic; I just don’t look good in plaster.


    I remember those interlocks and the great lengths people went to to bypass them. I also remember those horrible automated shoulder belts. One time I had a rental that had the automatic shoulder belts; I got half way home from picking up the car and realized I hadn’t put the lap belt on because the shoulder belt fooled me into thinking I had my belt on.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      About 25 years ago, my FIL forgot to fasten his lap belt while the shoulder belt operated (he was never a big seatbelt wearer, anyway). He subsequently rolled his car over a big hill after falling asleep, bouncing his skull off the roof several times as the car pirouetted on its nose about 5 times until it reached the bottom of the hill, landing on its wheels.

      He ended up with a compression-fractured neck and a metal halo, partially due to having no vertical restraint. He never fully recovered from that injury.

      The car designers thought they were doing people a favor back then, but in this case it wasn’t so.

      • 0 avatar

        They were just cheaping-out by not installing airbags.

        Or, like Chrysler back in the day, they installed a driver’s claymore, but then put a mouse belt on the passenger side!

        • 0 avatar

          They don’t install airbags in the roof of the car. Airbags are designed to supplement the seat belts, not replace them. SCE to AUX’s father in law would not have been helped by airbags in that accident.

  • avatar

    All these graphs show data from a period of 2015-2019.
    The Covid didn’t hit until 2020.
    I don’t understand the title of this?

    “What’s astounding is that there has been a spike in crashes during the pandemic, and speeding on highways with less congestion due to COVID-19 is cited as a causal factor in motor vehicle deaths during this time.”

    Where’s that data?

    • 0 avatar

      Take just about any 5 year period in the last 60 years, and you’ll se the same result, in general. There’s a reason why car insurance companies lower rates for drivers 25 and over, with years of driving experience.

      Impetuous youth with a “I’ll live forever” mindset, poor decision-making skills, and inexperience behind the wheel, have always been the main causes of teen accidents. Parental example is pretty far down the list.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My 73 Chevelle had a seat belt buzzer. I remember as a teen driver I seeing a car in front of me that missed the exit and the driver was thrown thru the windshield and later it was reported on the news that the driver was not wearing a seatbelt and died. That happened in 1970 and 51 years latter people are dying in car accidents because they did not wear seatbelts.

  • avatar

    Related note: a local radio station reported a few times in 2020 that, according to our state patrol, there was an increase in motorists driving over the 100 mph threshold during 2020 compared to any previous year. The patrol issued more speeding tickets as a result. I’ve often wondered about the possible motivation for this phenomenon. I suspect one possible factor is the restraints that were imposed upon the citizenry with COVID being the excuse. Driving one’s vehicle, over which one has perceived control, at whatever speed “I darn well want to” may be in response to the imposed restrictions. How much of a factor I have no clue.

    • 0 avatar

      I strongly suspect the real reason was much emptier highways allowing more opportunities to speed.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with jack4x that this was mostly about increased opportunity on roads that are ordinarily too jammed up to play race car on.

      But to the degree that it was anything else, it wasn’t “they’re controlling me but I have control over this” but instead “they aren’t controlling anything else so why should I follow road rules either?”

      2020 was a couple of weeks of restraint followed by a rest of the year of openly burning the social contract.

      • 0 avatar

        “But to the degree that it was anything else, it wasn’t “they’re controlling me but I have control over this” but instead “they aren’t controlling anything else so why should I follow road rules either?”

        I for one think this is only one side of the 2020 coin. The message to law enforcement was loud and clear. Be very careful about doing your job. If you make a mistake or even if you don’t and your encounter can be made to fit the narrative your career/ life may be ruined. So maybe they decided things like pulling over speeders to generate revenue for the state was not worth the risk. Word gets around and pretty soon the average speed goes up. Just a theory.

        • 0 avatar

          Having armed police doing in-person traffic enforcement is a loss for everyone. The armed police are trained and equipped to handle violent situations and people, and they should spend their time doing that. Putting them on traffic duty stretches them thin and increases opportunities for them to be accused of misconduct and bias, while at the same time not actually resulting in much enforcement. Traffic enforcement should mostly be automated, the way it is in South Korea.

          • 0 avatar

            Precisely this, but I will add there is a financial cost often overlooked as well. There is officer time + benefits cost + FICA and vehicle depreciation + cost of special equipment + fuel + annual maintenance + officer indemnity insurance to take into consideration which is gauged as a “per car hour” as I was told.

            Back in 2013 I believe I was quoted this cost for the Bureau of Pgh Police was $60/hr. A new traffic signal per hour per year works out to be $28.5/hr to $57/hr for one year and is paid for (8760 hrs per year). All traffic enforcement by officer is a huge expense whether its directing traffic or radar enforcement. One might think if the officer could issue two $120 citations per hour per shift it would cover the cost but as I was told the Bureau only got 10 or 15%, the state and county steals the rest for their various slush funds.


            “It costs the taxpayer $250,000 to $500,000 to purchase and install a traffic signal.”


          • 0 avatar

            Paying cops to write tickets is stupendously expensive and inefficient, and simultaneously free. You need enough cops on force for the 99th percentile days. The rest of the time 90% of the day’s work is just showing the flag.

            That doesn’t make traffic by cop a good idea, I think it’s a pretty terrible one, but for the totally different reason that showing the flag by handing out capricious fines turns good people into flag burners.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree about the restraints imposed and the feeling of a lack of control because of COVID even though I understand why. Does give you an urge to have more control over your own life.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    As soon as your teen has completed the BS state-mandated driver’s school and has his/her license, enroll him/her in a proper defensive driving course (I sent my son to

    It’s not cheap (I paid $375 last year; it’s now $415) but it’s worth it. The first time your kid loses control of a car, have it be on a big skidpad with nothing to hit but cones, and a racer in the passenger seat to tell him exactly what he did wrong and how to do it right.

    • 0 avatar

      Matt Foley,

      “The first time your kid loses control of a car…”

      This driving school that actually teaches how to handle a car at speed makes sense. It always seemed ridiculous to me that so many people are driving vehicles at high speed and have absolutely no experience in how to deal with it when things get messy. I think the usual driver’s ed is more or less useless (and, as I recall statistics bear that out).

      One down side of modern vehicles is that they isolate the driver/passengers so well that there is little sense of how fast you are really going and, hence, the danger. It could be that ESC actually makes the sense of invulnerability worse because thing stay easily under control until they don’t.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, plus points for the clever headline and many minus points for discussing the 2020 pandemic in connection with data that says it’s most recent information is from a year earlier.

    Or did I miss something?

    I’ve been driving for 57 years and have been involved in 2 crashes. One when I was 18 and a guy blew through a stop sign in the intersection I was approaching, and I T-boned his car. The second when I slid through an intersection in a snowstorm that had several inches of snow covering what was more or less ice, and my vehicle was T-boned. No injuries to anyone in either. So, I survived my teen age years — before the seatbelt era — intact, through not without taking some modest risks. Those risks did not include the consumption of alcohol while driving, and once I was driving cars with seatbelts, I used them regularly. The first that I can remember was my Dad’s 1970 Volvo 144s, which he bought while I was in college. I had some very good lap/shoulder belt combinations up front that were super easy to use.

    Even better, my three daughters survived their teenage years in the 90s and oughties without getting in a crash.

    I’m kinda curious what planet Mr. Sakuri lives on, where “keeping up with the traffic, even while it’s exceeding the speed limit” is a bad thing.

    While agree that modeling aggressively bad driving is probably not good for your kids, apart from the consumption of alcohol, I don’t think that’s the real issue.

    It’s been well-established that teen-agers’ perception of risk is pretty attenuated, and today’s cars are so easy to drive fast (as compared to the cars of my teen-age years), I think that even unimpaired by alcohol (or in those enlightened states, marijuana) they really have no idea how close they are to serious danger when hurtling along at speed. Kind of like the snap oversteer of first generation Porsche 911s, today’s car’s don’t let you know close you are to trouble until you’re in really BIG trouble that is way beyond your ability to deal with it.

    I don’t know how to deal with this except, perhaps, to have “1 strike and you’re out” DUI laws for people under 25 and, as I believe is common in some European countries much lower speed limits for young drivers, perhaps stepping up a bit for those over 21. In Europe I have seen signs attached to the rear of the vehicle indicating a speed limit of, IIRC 80 km/hr. or even less. Obviously, this creates an enforcement problem for vehicles that are shared with an older driver who is not subject to that kind of restriction.

    My kids were fortunate in that they lived in the city of Washington, DC with access to good public transportation . . . not in the suburbs where a car is a social necessity for just about everyone. That’s one reason why I moved out of the suburbs when my oldest was 14.

    • 0 avatar

      “I’m kinda curious what planet Mr. Sakuri lives on, where “keeping up with the traffic, even while it’s exceeding the speed limit” is a bad thing.”

      That was presented as the GHSA’s opinion, not Mr. Sakuri’s:

      The GHSA says this isn’t because they’re not taught to mind traffic conditions or speed limits, it is due to years of having seen their parents or other adults speeding, whether it was intended to reach a certain destination in time, or to keep pace with traffic conditions, even if it meant exceeding speed limits.

  • avatar

    I remember getting into trouble with 3 cars that had south of 100hp and above 11 seconds to 60 as a kid, and the only driver distractions being the radio.

    Nowadays with the generic family sedan having north of 200hp and the advent of driver distractions like nav, smartphones, etc, i’m shocked more kids don’t wrap themselves around trees.

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