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Dangerous Drivers Header

In the United States, 2015 was the deadliest year for drivers since 2008 – with an estimated 38,300 killed and more than 4.4 million serious injuries – and in 2016, this trend has continued. In fact, road fatalities “have increased by 18 percent over the last two years.”

With statistics like these, who is causing most of these injuries and deaths – and what can we do to prevent them?

Drunk driving, texting behind the wheel and traveling in inclement weather can each cause an accident on its own, but there are two groups of drivers who increase risks all around: teenagers and senior citizens.

Which of these groups pose the greatest threat on the road and what can we do to make their driving habits a little safer? We reviewed the most recent statistics (2011 to 2015) from Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to find out. To break down the data further, we adjusted state populations for their teen-to-senior ratios. Read on to learn more about deadly driving demographics.

Fatal American Accidents, by Driver Demographic

Fatal Drives Teens and Seniors

Montana – the state with the highest number of traffic fatalities overall in 2013 – had the most vehicle fatalities involving teenage and senior drivers between 2011 and 2015. Further, teens were involved in more fatal car accidents than senior citizens – nearly 32 vehicle fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Senior citizens accounted for roughly 24 fatal accidents per 100,000 residents in Montana. While this is lower than the teenage statistic, the number of seniors in Montana is also lower, with 7.9 percent of Montana’s population between the ages of 15 and 19 and 6.5 percent aged 75 or older.

Drinking, Driving, and Age

Drunk driving is incredibly dangerous.

According to the CDC, 28 people die in drinking-related automobile accidents in the United States every day, and about 31 percent of all fatal accidents involve alcohol. Unfortunately, our two most dangerous driving groups are no exception.

From 2011 to 2015, Montana, North Dakota and Vermont were the top three states for drinking-and-driving-related vehicle deaths involving teens. The top states where seniors caused fatal accidents after drinking were Montana, Delaware, and Wyoming – all states that have above-average drunk driving accident rates in general. 

Fatal Narcotic Crashes, by Driver Demographic

Alcohol may be the leading cause of driving impairment, but a significant number of Americans have also admitted to driving under the influence of other drugs, such as marijuana. In fact, “a study of college students with access to a car found that 1 in 6 had driven under the influence of a drug other than alcohol at least once in the past year.”

According to the data, the states with the highest number of drug-related accidents involving teens were Wyoming and Vermont, while seniors posed a greater-than-average risk in New Hampshire, Tennessee and Indiana.

Dangerous Counties, by Driver Demographic

When we crunched the numbers, the most dangerous counties for teen drivers were in Montana, North Dakota and Texas.

The most dangerous counties for senior drivers were in Arizona, North Carolina and Texas (with La Paz County, Arizona, having more than 148 fatalities per 100,000 residents).

Deadly Driving: Matters of Gender and Age?

When it comes to both teens and seniors, men are significantly more likely to be involved in fatal car crashes than women (3.2 teen fatalities and 2.7 senior fatalities per 100,000 residents). Men also get more DUIs and traffic violations, but they also drive significantly more miles per year than women.

Danger on the Roadways

Teenagers may be the most dangerous group of drivers on the road while seniors still have an above average accident rate, but there are things we can all do to make the roadways safer.

Never drink – or take any other mind-altering substance – before or during a drive. Never text while driving (which raises your risk of an accident by eight times), and always wear a seatbelt.

Supporting graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws and warning the teens in your life about distracted driving (which) may also help lower the risk of fatal teen accidents.

Encouraging older drivers to skip the commute when weather or road conditions are less than ideal – and to check in with a doctor regularly to make sure they are well enough to drive – can also help mitigate risk.

Methodology

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) is a database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which tracks the number of fatal accidents that occur in the United States. We analyzed data from 2011 to 2015 for teens and seniors. We define people who are between the ages of 13 and 19 as teens and people who are over the age of 65 as seniors. Additionally, 2014 census data were used to calculate the per state and per county values. Population data were adjusted to reflect the teen-to-senior ratio. Counties with less than 10,000 residents were excluded.

NOTE: If you're a journalist interested in covering this project, we encourage you to use any of the graphics included above. We just ask that you attribute Auto Insurance Center fairly in your coverage and provide a link to this page so that your audience can learn more about our work. If you'd like to discuss this project, or any of our other research, reach out to us at [email protected].