Prevalence of teen driver errors leading to serious motor vehicle crashes

Allison E. Curry, Jessica H Mirman, Michael J. Kallan, Flaura K. Winston, Dennis R. Durbin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of adolescent deaths. Programs and policies should target the most common and modifiable reasons for crashes. We estimated the frequency of critical reasons for crashes involving teen drivers, and examined in more depth specific teen driver errors.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey collected data at the scene of a nationally representative sample of 5470 serious crashes between 7/05 and 12/07. NHTSA researchers assigned a single driver, vehicle, or environmental factor as the critical reason for the event immediately leading to each crash. We analyzed crashes involving 15–18 year old drivers.

822 teen drivers were involved in 795 serious crashes, representing 335,667 teens in 325,291 crashes. Driver error was by far the most common reason for crashes (95.6%), as opposed to vehicle or environmental factors. Among crashes with a driver error, a teen made the error 79.3% of the time (75.8% of all teen-involved crashes). Recognition errors (e.g., inadequate surveillance, distraction) accounted for 46.3% of all teen errors, followed by decision errors (e.g., following too closely, too fast for conditions) (40.1%) and performance errors (e.g., loss of control) (8.0%). Inadequate surveillance, driving too fast for conditions, and distracted driving together accounted for almost half of all crashes. Aggressive driving behavior, drowsy driving, and physical impairments were less commonly cited as critical reasons. Males and females had similar proportions of broadly classified errors, although females were specifically more likely to make inadequate surveillance errors.

Our findings support prioritization of interventions targeting driver distraction and surveillance and hazard awareness training.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1285-1290
JournalAccident Analysis & Prevention
Issue number4
Early online date19 Nov 2010
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2011

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • adolescence
  • automobiles
  • distracted driving
  • novice driver
  • teen driving
  • traffic accident


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