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Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific car insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. She also specializes in automa...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert

UPDATED: Aug 10, 2020

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For many teenagers, getting their driver’s license is as exciting as it is stressful. Driving a car means freedom, but it also comes with a great deal of responsibility and risk. For some teenagers, it can be difficult to fully appreciate that risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teenage drivers are more likely than older drivers to make critical errors that result in serious crashes. For example, they are more likely to speed and less likely to keep a safe distance between vehicles.

Motor vehicle crashes can be costly on numerous levels. The CDC reports that young people ages 15 to 19 make up slightly more than 6 percent of the population. Yet, in 2016, they were responsible for 8.4 percent ($13.6 billion) of total motor vehicle injury costs.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds that 16- to 20-year-olds account for 8.3 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S.

Every parent wants to do their part to keep their teenage driver as safe as possible. To raise awareness of potentially risky behaviors, our researchers turned to the latest data on teen driving patterns from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The researchers studied stats on seat belt use, drinking and driving, texting and driving, and fatalities. Here’s what they found:

Key Findings

While the statistics surrounding teenage drivers can be grim, there is positive news. For example, more teens are taking preventive safety measures when they drive. In 1991, the CDC found that 25.9 percent of teens said they rarely wore their seat belt. However, that number has steadily decreased over the years. As of 2017, just 5.9 percent of teens said they rarely buckled up.

bar graph showing teen seat belt use in the US

Similarly, drinking and driving among teens has improved over the years. From 2013 to 2017, the percentage of teens who said they drink and drive fell from 10 percent to 5.5 percent. Yet, it is important to note that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in motor vehicle crashes when they do drink and drive.

Despite improvements in seat belt use and impaired driving, national data shows no significant change in the number of teens who said they text and drive. From 2013 to 2017, the percentage of teens who engaged in this behavior remained flat at approximately 40 percent.
bar graphs showing numbers of teens involved in risky driving behaviors across the US

Texting while driving is an especially dangerous type of distracted driving because it involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction. In the course of sending or reading a text message, drivers will take their eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. Even that short amount of time translates to the distance of a football field when driving at 55 mph.

At the state level, teen texting and driving shows a statistically significant positive correlation with teen motor vehicle fatalities by population. In general, states with more teens who text and drive also have more teens who die in motor vehicle accidents.

Interestingly, neither drinking and driving nor seat belt use show significant correlations with the number of teen motor vehicle fatalities. While correlation does not imply causation, this data—in addition to everything else known about distracted driving—makes a strong case for actively reducing cell phone use among teen drivers.


RELATED:
Age is one of the most important factors in determining car insurance rates. For example, car insurance for a 19 year old driver is far above the national average. Luckily, there are drivers ed insurance discounts available for new drivers.


When comparing gender across these statistics, both male and female teens are equally as likely to text and drive and fail to wear a seat belt. However, teenage males are significantly more likely than teenage females to drink and drive. Of teenage males, 6.8 percent report drinking and driving compared to 4.1 percent of teenage females.

NHTSA data further shows that teenage males are nearly twice as likely as teenage females to be involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes. In 2017, the organization found that 1,807 teenage males died as a result of a crash, compared to 925 teenage females. Fortunately, teen motor vehicle fatalities are down nearly a third from 1975 and the most significant declines are among teenage males.

teens involved in risky driving behavior by gender shown in bar graph

With these trends in mind, we wanted to use these statistics to identify the states with the most dangerous teenage drivers. To do this, our researchers created a composite score for each state based on the following metrics:

  • Percentage of teens who text and drive
  • Percentage of teens who drink and drive
  • Percentage of teens who rarely wear a seat belt
  • Teen traffic fatality rate per 100k teens

Only states with data available from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System were included in the analysis. Here are the states with the most at-risk teenage drivers.

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15 States with the Most Dangerous Teenage Drivers

Main Street, Mesa Arizona
Alamy Stock Photo

#15 – Arizona

  • Teens who text & drive: Data not available
  • Teens who drink & drive: 6.2% (12.7% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 8.1% (37.3% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 12.6 per 100k (5.6% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 59 per year

Charleston, West Virginia, USA skyline at twilight.
Alamy Stock Photo

#14 – West Virginia

  • Teens who text & drive: 34.0% (13.3% better than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 5.4% (1.8% better than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 8.9% (50.8% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 22.2 per 100k (85.7% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 24 per year

The Austin Skyline in Austin, Texas, shines on a late afternoon. The iconic Austin highrises are reflected in Lady Bird Lake.
Alamy Stock Photo

#13 – Texas

  • Teens who text & drive: 39.3% (0.3% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 7.1% (29.1% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 7.1% (20.3% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 13.6 per 100k (13.9% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 273 per year

DID YOU KNOW?
Ever wonder how much it costs to insure a corvette? Even though the corvette is one of the fastest cars on the road, it’s also one of the most affordable cars to insure. In fact, car insurance for a corvette is similar in price to insurance on a Mini Cooper.


Buck O'Neil Bridge in Kansas City, Kansas
Alamy Stock Photo

#12 – Kansas

  • Teens who text & drive: 48.0% (22.4% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 6.4% (16.4% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 5.0% (15.3% better than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 17.5 per 100k (46.2% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 35 per year

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Alamy Stock Photo

#11 – Oklahoma

  • Teens who text & drive: 45.7% (16.6% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 5.3% (3.6% better than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 8.0% (35.6% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 19.7 per 100k (64.9% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 52 per year

Charleston, South Carolina
Alamy Stock Photo

#10 – South Carolina

  • Teens who text & drive: 45.4% (15.8% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 7.5% (36.4% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 6.8% (15.3% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 14.3 per 100k (19.4% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 46 per year

Coeur dAlene, Idaho
Alamy Stock Photo

#9 – Idaho

  • Teens who text & drive: 47.0% (19.9% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 6.0% (9.1% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 7.3% (23.7% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 17.3 per 100k (44.5% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 21 per year

Memphis, Tennessee
Alamy Stock Photo

#8 – Tennessee

  • Teens who text & drive: 49.0% (25.0% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: Data not available
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 8.9% (50.8% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 14.4 per 100k (20.1% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 61 per year

Iowa road up hill
Alamy Stock Photo

#7 – Iowa

  • Teens who text & drive: 55.2% (40.8% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 6.5% (18.2% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 6.8% (15.3% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 16.3 per 100k (36.3% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 35 per year

TRENDING
Pay-as-you-go auto insurance is a fairly new type of insurance that’s gaining popularity as a savvy way for drivers to lower their insurance premiums. Essentially, this type of coverage offers usage-based rates that fluctuate by miles driven.


Saint Louis, Missouri
Alamy Stock Photo

#6 – Missouri

  • Teens who text & drive: 46.4% (18.4% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 5.3% (3.6% better than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 9.0% (52.5% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 22.6 per 100k (89.3% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 89 per year

Fargo, North Dakota
Alamy Stock Photo

#5 – North Dakota

  • Teens who text & drive: 52.6% (34.2% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 6.5% (18.2% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 8.1% (37.3% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 19.0 per 100k (59.0% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 9 per year

Nebraska capitol building
Alamy Stock Photo

#4 – Nebraska

  • Teens who text & drive: 48.3% (23.2% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 6.3% (14.5% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 8.5% (44.1% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 20.7 per 100k (73.0% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 27 per year

New Orleans, Louisiana
Alamy Stock Photo

#3 – Louisiana

  • Teens who text & drive: 43.0% (9.7% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 10.0% (81.8% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 12.5% (111.9% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 17.7 per 100k (48.0% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 53 per year

Little Rock, Arkansas
Alamy Stock Photo

#2 – Arkansas

  • Teens who text & drive: 46.2% (17.9% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 10.7% (94.5% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 17.5% (196.6% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 14.6 per 100k (22.3% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 29 per year

lone car on Montana road looking golden at early sunrise
Alamy Stock Photo

#1 – Montana

  • Teens who text & drive: 54.2% (38.3% worse than average)
  • Teens who drink & drive: 7.6% (38.2% worse than average)
  • Teens who rarely wear a seat belt: 7.8% (32.2% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatality rate: 20.5 per 100k (71.4% worse than average)
  • Teen traffic fatalities: 13 per year

Methodology

To identify the states with the most dangerous teenage drivers, a composite score was calculated based on the following factors:

  • Percentage of teens who text and drive
  • Percentage of teens who drink and drive
  • Percentage of teens who rarely wear a seat belt
  • Teen traffic fatality rate per 100k teens

The following data sources were used:

Only states with data from the YRBSS survey were included in the analysis. For a complete list of results for all states included in the analysis, see the charts with all the rankings below.

Full Study Results

RankStateTexting and DrivingDrinking and DrivingRarely Wearing Seat BeltTeen Traffic Fatality Rate (per 100k)Teen Traffic Fatalities
1Montana54.2%7.6%7.8%20.513
2Arkansas46.2%10.7%17.5%14.629
3Louisiana43.0%10.0%12.5%17.753
4Nebraska48.3%6.3%8.5%20.727
5North Dakota52.6%6.5%8.1%199
6Missouri46.4%5.3%9.0%22.689
7Iowa55.2%6.5%6.8%16.335
8Tennessee49.0%N/A8.9%14.461
9Idaho47.0%6.0%7.3%17.321
10South Carolina45.4%7.5%6.8%14.346
11Oklahoma45.7%5.3%8.0%19.752
12Kansas48.0%6.4%5.0%17.535
13Texas39.3%7.1%7.1%13.6273
14West Virginia34.0%5.4%8.9%22.224
15ArizonaN/A6.2%8.1%12.659
16New Mexico39.6%6.5%7.5%12.217
17Florida35.1%5.8%8.0%15.5186
18New Hampshire41.7%5.8%6.9%12.911
19Kentucky34.7%3.9%8.7%20.559
20Pennsylvania37.4%5.0%11.3%8.973
21Utah40.6%2.8%9.5%9.523
22North Carolina38.0%5.4%6.7%14.8100
23Vermont34.1%7.3%N/A7.23
24Wisconsin45.7%5.5%5.9%13.150
25Rhode Island37.3%N/A6.7%118
26Maryland28.1%5.9%N/A10.139
27Massachusetts35.6%5.7%N/A6.228
28Illinois37.1%5.2%N/A1084
29VirginiaN/A5.6%6.4%7.842
30MaineN/A4.3%6.1%15.112
31Colorado35.2%5.3%5.9%15.756
32Delaware45.0%N/A5.5%6.64
33Connecticut33.0%6.3%6.4%5.313
34Michigan39.4%3.7%6.3%8.657
35Alaska28.6%4.3%7.6%4.32
36Nevada31.9%5.0%6.3%8.916
37California34.3%4.9%5.8%8206
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References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
  2. https://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/People/PeopleAllVictims.aspx
  3. https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/teenagers#trends
  4. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving
  5. https://www.census.gov/