The Most Dangerous States for Young Drivers

One of a parent's top priorities is helping their teen to adopt safe driving habits. It's important, however, to know which states pose a greater driving risk to your teen. Learn more about the states that carry a greater risk for young drivers.

The Most Dangerous States for Young Drivers

A shiny new drivers license may mean freedom to a teenager, but it means bouts of fear and concern for their parents. Teen drivers often aren’t prepared for the ways of the road, and they are responsible for a large percentage of car accidents and injury costs each year. 

In 2017 there were 1,830 young drivers 15 to 20 years old who died in motor vehicle crashes, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was a 4-percent decrease from the 1,916 young drivers who died in 2016. There were 292,742 young drivers treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes, according to the Center for Disease Control. That breaks down to about six teens ages 16 to 19 dying each day in motor vehicle crashes with hundreds more injured.

But not only are teen driving accidents devastating, they’re also incredibly expensive. Young people ageds 15 to 19 represented just 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2016 CDC report, but they accounted for an estimated $13.6 billion in costs for motor vehicle injuries.

Keeping your teen drivers safe on the road is important to any parent, and there are a ton of factors that go into doing that. One of the ways is knowing what states are the most dangerous for teen drivers — and why those roads are so unsafe. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to keeping your teen drivers safe.  

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The most dangerous states for teen drivers

According to the most recent data from the NHTSA, there were 4,361 young drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2017 – a 26-percent decrease from the 5,886 involved in 2008. It’s not just teen drivers who are paying the price of car accidents with their lives, either. Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for ages 10, 11 and 17 through 22 in 2016, per the Teen Safe Driving Report from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Before we go any further, though, it’s important to note that the statistics regarding teen driver involvement in fatal crashes are showing some positive results. Teen driver involvement in fatal crashes actually fell by nearly half — 48 percent — from 7,500 in 2005 to 3,885 in 2014. This, in turn, resulted in a 51 percent decrease in teen driver deaths, as well as declines of 59 and 44 percent, respectively, in teen driver serious and minor injuries. So, while the data on teen driving fatalities may be harrowing, it appears that young drivers have become more safe behind the wheel.

Let’s take a look at the top 10 states on our list of the most dangerous states for young drivers

This list is based upon the percentage of state traffic fatalities who were killed in crashes involving young drivers (ages 15-20) in 2017 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In ranking the list, the percentage of the state’s population that fell between the ages of 15-20 in 2017 was factored into the equation. This percentage was obtained from data from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Below, we will also take a deeper dive into the laws the Top 10 states have in place for the age when a young driver can obtain their permit and license along with whether each state has restrictions for hand held use and/or prohibits the use of cell phones completely for drivers of a motor vehicle.

#1: Rhode Island

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 18.1%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Age 15-20: 8.48%
  • Full privilege age: 17 years, 6 months at minimum
  • Learner stage laws: Drivers at this stage are required to complete 50 supervised driving hours, with 10 of those hours completed during night driving hours
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years, 6 months at minimum; drivers at this stage are restricted from driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.; for the first 12 months intermediate drivers in Rhode Island can drive with no more than 1 passenger under 21 years of age
  • Cell phone laws: Prohibited for all drivers; state primary law

Rhode Island is the most dangerous state for teen drivers due to an extremely high percentage of state traffic fatalities where young drivers were involved in the crash. A whopping 18.1 percent of state traffic fatalities involved young drivers, which is a significant percentage.

What’s interesting about Rhode Island, though, is that while they may have the highest percent of traffic fatalities involving young drivers, this state has a graduated license program that doesn’t allow for full driving privileges by teenagers until the age of 17 years and 6 months. The state of Rhode Island also requires more supervised driving hours than most of the other states on this list.

Even more interesting is that Rhode Island has banned the use of cell phones for all drivers under state law, which includes handheld use or texting. Given the high percentage of young drivers involved in traffic fatalities in Rhode Island, the graduated license program and cell phone ban doesn’t appear to be minimizing the dangers for novice drivers, at least not yet.

#2: Iowa

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 17.0%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Ages 15-20: 8.32%
  • Full privilege age: 17 years old
  • Learner stage laws: 14 years old; drivers must stay in this stage for at least 12 months; 20 driving hours required during Learner Stage with at least 2 during night hours
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years old; nighttime driving restriction from 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m.; must complete 10 driving hours in this stage with 2 during night hours; passenger restrictions for 6 months with no one under the age of 18 but parents may waive the restriction
  • Cell phone laws: No handheld cell phone ban except for drivers with restricted or intermediate licenses; texting ban for all drivers

Iowa ranks #2 on our list of the most dangerous states for young drivers due to the large percentage of traffic fatalities that involve young drivers. About 17 percent of the traffic accident fatalities involve young drivers. Interestingly, the only drivers who are banned from handheld cell phone use are restricted or intermediate license holders, and there is a texting ban in Iowa for all drivers.

#3: New Hampshire

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 15.7%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Ages 15-20: 7.78%
  • Full privilege age: nighttime – 17 years and one month; driving with passengers 16 years and 6 months
  • Learner stage laws: 15 years 6 months; no minimum duration; required supervised hours are 40 with 10 nighttime hours
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years; nighttime restrictions 1 a.m. to 4 a.m.; for the first 6 months, no more than one passenger under the age of 25
  • Cell phone laws: Novice drivers under 18 prohibited; text messaging prohibited for all drivers per state law

About 15.7 percent of fatal traffic accidents in New Hampshire involve young or novice drivers despite state law prohibiting cell phone use for novice drivers and a complete text ban in place. New Hampshire also has a graduated license program in place that doesn’t allow for full licensing until the age of 17 years and one month, which is much later than some of the other states on this list.

#4: Mississippi

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 15.9%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Ages 15-20: 8.30%
  • Full privilege age: 16 years, 6 months
  • Learner stage laws: 15 years; 12 month minimum duration; NO required supervised driving hours at night
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years old; Sun-Thurs: 10 p.m.- 6 a.m. and Fri-Sat 11:30 p.m. – 6 a.m. nighttime restrictions.
  • Cell phone laws: No laws banning hand-held communication. Only school bus drivers cannot use cell phones while driving. All drivers are banned from texting and driving

About 15.9 percent of fatal traffic accidents in Mississippi  involve young or novice drivers. There are no laws in place that require hands free communication and the only drivers that are required to not use cell phones are school bus drivers.

#5: Missouri

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 15.3%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Ages 15-20:  7.71%
  • Full privilege age: 18 years old
  • Learner stage laws: 15 years with 6 months minimum duration; required supervised driving hours are 40 with 10 nighttime hours 
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years old; nighttime restrictions 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.; passenger restrictions for the first 6 months – no more than one under the age of 19 and no more than 3 under 19 after the first six months
  • Cell phone laws: Text messaging ban for drivers 21 and under per state law

In Missouri, about 15.3 percent of fatal traffic accidents involve young or novice drivers despite the graduated license program and a late age for full licensing (18 years).  However, they have no laws in place requiring a hands free device or a complete cell phone ban for drivers, young and old.

#6: Colorado

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 15.1%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Ages 15-20: 7.63%
  • Full privilege age: 17 years old
  • Learner stage laws: 15 with drivers education; 15 and 6 months with drivers awareness program; 16 without drivers ed or awareness program; must hold learner stage for 12 months; supervised driving hours are 50 with 10 nighttime hours
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years old; nighttime restrictions from midnight to 5 a.m. (secondary enforcement); passenger restrictions except family – first 6 months no passengers; second 6 months no more than one passenger (secondary enforcement)
  • Cell phone laws: Drivers under the age of 18 prohibited from being on cell phones; all drivers banned from texting under state law 

About 15.1 percent of the traffic accidents in Colorado involve young or novice drivers despite having a later age restriction for full privilege driving (17 years old) than some of the other states on this list. Even more interesting is that all drivers under the age of 18 are banned from using their cell phones while driving in Colorado and texting while driving is banned under state law.

#7: Wisconsin

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 15.3%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Ages 15-20: 7.93%
  • Full privilege age: 16 years and 9 months
  • Learner stage laws: 15 years 6 months; minimum duration is 6 months; supervised driving hours are 30 with 10 nighttime hours
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years old; nighttime restrictions from midnight to 5 a.m.; passenger restrictions are no more than one except for family
  • Cell phone laws: Novice drivers with learners or intermediate license are banned from using cell phones; texting banned for all drivers per state law

With about 15.3 percent of fatal traffic accidents involving young or novice drivers, Wisconsin ties Missouri for their spot on this list. It’s surprising to see Wisconsin’s statistics line up with Missouri considering that they have more strict nighttime driving laws for novice drivers in place, as well as a stricter law for passenger driving and a complete cell phone ban for learners and intermediate license holders. Unlike Missouri, Wisconsin bans texting for all drivers, not just drivers under the age of 21.

#8: Idaho

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 15.2%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Ages 15-20: 8.39%
  • Full privilege age: nighttime – 16 years old; driving with passengers – 15 years and 6 months
  • Learner stage laws: 14 years and 6 months; minimum duration of 6 months; supervised driving hours are 50 with 10 nighttime driving hours
  • Intermediate stage laws: 15 years old; nighttime restriction is from sunset to sunrise; passenger restriction for the first 6 months is no more than one under 17
  • Cell phone laws: No cell phone law for novice drivers; texting is banned for all drivers per state law

Idaho’s fatal traffic accidents involving young or novice drivers clock in at about 15.2 percent, even with the cell phone ban in place for novice drivers and a total text ban for all drivers. The learner stage in Idaho starts at a much younger age than the other states on this list — teens can get their learner’s permit at just 14 years and 6 months — and can receive their full privilege driver’s license, including nighttime privileges, at 16 years old. Full driver’s privilege for daytime driving can be granted at 15 years and 6 months, including with passengers.

#9: Utah

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 16.1%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Age 15-20: 9.31%
  • Full privilege age: Nighttime – 17 years old; driving with passengers 16 years and 6 months
  • Learner stage laws: 15 years old for a minimum of 6 months; 40 hours of supervised driving with 10 nighttime
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years old; nighttime restrictions midnight to 5 a.m.; for the first 6 months no passengers
  • Cell phone laws: Prohibited for novice drivers under 18; texting prohibited for all drivers per state law

Utah bans full privilege nighttime driving for young or novice drivers until they’re 17 years old, and restricts full privilege daytime driving for young or novice drivers until the age of 16 years and 6 months. Even with those restrictions in place, and a complete ban on texting and cell phone use for novice drivers, Utah still has a problem with traffic fatalities involving young drivers. About 16.1 percent of fatal traffic accidents in Utah involve young drivers.

#10: Nebraska

  • Percentage of State Traffic Fatalities who were Killed in Crashes Involving Young Drivers: 14.9%
  • Percentage of State Population that is Ages 15-20: 8.25%
  • Full privilege age: Nighttime – 17 years old; driving with passengers 16 years and 6 months
  • Learner stage laws: 15 years old for a minimum of 6 months; 50 hours of supervised driving with 10 of those hours as nighttime driving
  • Intermediate stage laws: 16 years old; nighttime restrictions midnight to 6 a.m.; for the first 6 months, no more than one young passenger in the vehicle
  • Cell phone laws: No hand-held ban; a full cell phone ban is in place for learner’s permit drivers and intermediate license holders younger than 18; texting prohibited for all drivers per state law

Nebraska has a percentage of just below 15% for the number of traffic fatalities that occurred in crashes involving young drivers and the state population for the age range of 15-20 is 8.25%.  This brings them in at number 10 on our list of the Most Dangerous States for Young Drivers. They join 7 other states in the Top 10 that do not specifically prohibit the use of hand-held devices while driving.

Ways to keep your young or novice drivers safe on the road

The states on this list may be the most dangerous for young drivers, but novice drivers in other states are also at risk for injury or death in traffic accidents. It’s important to do what you can to keep your kids safe behind the wheel while helping to protect other drivers on the road, too.

One of the easiest ways to keep your kids safe while driving is to have them practice, and practice, and then practice some more, according to Collin Craig, a Texas-based law enforcement officer. 

“The easiest way to prevent accidents is to have your child drive every time you’re in the car. That way you can help correct bad habits and guide them into being better, more aware drivers,” Craig said.

“A lot of the danger with young drivers stems from their inexperience. Young drivers aren’t going to be as quick to react to things like being cut off in traffic, and those few seconds of hesitation can really make a difference. Teach your kids how to anticipate braking, and how to keep an eye on every part of the road,” Craig said.

“It’s also important to make sure that your kids know how to use all of the tools their car has, including the rear view mirror and side mirrors. You’d be surprised at how many drivers do not know how to adjust the mirrors, causing major blind spots and increasing the chance of accidents,” he said. 

While on patrol, Craig has seen his fair share of devastating accidents involving young drivers, and encourages parents and guardians of young drivers to also:

  • Encourage following the speed limit and lead by example, even when you’re late
  • Always wear seat belts and remind your child of the importance of safety belts
  • Invest in drivers education or another defensive driving course
  • Restrict your child from driving with other teenagers; the distractions can be too overwhelming for young or novice drivers
  • Look into apps that restrict the use of your child’s cell phone while driving, like the free Safe Texting app that can sense when your child’s speed is clocking more than 15 miles per hour
  • Only allow your child to graduate to a full license when you think they’re ready, not just when the law will allow it

State % of Traffic Fatalities Involving Young Drivers % of Population That Is 15-20 Years Old State Restricts Cell Phone Use for Young Drivers State Has a Hands-Free Ban for Drivers
1 Rhode Island 18.1% 8.48% Yes Yes
2 Iowa 17% 8.32% Yes No
3 New Hampshire 15.7% 7.78% Yes Yes
4 Mississippi 15.9% 8.30% No No
5 Missouri 15.% 7.71% No No
6 Colorado 15.1% 7.63% Yes No
7 Wisconsin 15.3% 7.93% Yes No
8 Idaho 15.2% 8.39% No No
9 Utah 16.1% 9.31% Yes No
10 Nebraska 14.9% 8.25% Yes No
11 Oklahoma 14.4% 8.03% No No
12 Illinois 13.9% 7.78% Yes Yes
13 Montana 13.4% 7.37% No No
14 South Carolina 13.6% 7.83% No No
15 Florida 12.8% 6.88% No No
16 Indiana 14.1% 8.30% Yes Yes
17 North Carolina 13.7% 7.91% Yes No
18 Texas 14.1% 8.42% Yes No
19 Ohio 13.4% 7.89% Yes No
20 Kansas 13.7% 8.35% Yes No
21 Alabama 13.1% 7.83% Yes No
22 Washintgon 12.4% 7.19% Yes Yes
23 New Mexico 12.9% 7.98% Yes No
24 Georgia 13.1% 8.23% Yes Yes
25 Pennsylvania 12.5% 7.68% No No
26 Michigan 12.8% 8.00% Yes No
27 Kentucky 12.5% 7.77% Yes No
28 Louisiana 12.2% 7.64% Yes No
29 West Viriginia 11.6% 7.18% Yes Yes
30 Tennessee 11.9% 7.57% Yes Yes
31 California 11.8% 7.77% Yes Yes
32 Arizonia 12% 7.98% Yes Yes
33 New York 11.3% 7.42% Yes No
34 Massaschusetts 12% 8.15% Yes No
35 Minnesota 11.5% 7.68% Yes Yes
36 North Dakota 11.3% 7.83% Yes No
37 Maine 10.5% 7.03% Yes Yes
38 Oregon 10.3% 7.16% Yes Yes
39 Wyoming 10.6% 7.53% No No
40 Maryland 10.4% 7.61% Yes No
41 South Dakota 10.1% 7.92% Yes No
42 Virginia 9.9% 7.73% Yes No
43 Connecticut 10.4% 8.29% Yes Yes
44 Nevada 8.7% 7.10% Yes No
45 New Jersey 9% 7.49% Yes Yes
46 Arkansas 9.1% 7.94% Yes Yes
47 Alaska 6.3% 7.54% No No
48 Vermont 7.2% 8.51% Yes Yes
49 Hawaii 4.7% 6.52% Yes Yes
50 Delaware 5% 7.51% Yes Yes

References: 

http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/cellular-phone-use-and-texting-while-driving-laws.aspx

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812747

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812753

https://www.ghsa.org/state-laws/states

https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-state-total.html


Safety Team

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