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Teen Driving

The Minnesota Department of Commerce urges parents to help their teens drive responsibly—for their own safety and the safety of others, as well as to keep auto insurance costs down. Traffic crashes are the second leading cause of death among Minnesota teens, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety

Traffic Crashes — The Second Leading Cause of Death for Teens

Traffic crashes are the second leading cause of teen deaths in Minnesota teens. Each year, more than 30 teens (ages 16–19) are killed on Minnesota roads. The leading cause of teen deaths is suicide.  

Teens are at greatest risk on the road due to inexperience, risk-taking behind the wheel, speeding and distracted driving. Teens also have the lowest seat belt use rate of all age groups.  

Due to inexperience, distractions and risk-taking, teens are one of the worst groups of drivers in Minnesota.  In 2018, teens (15-19) made up just 5 percent of all licensed drivers.  Yet, they made up 15.9 percent of all drivers involved in traffic crashes.

  • In 2018, there were 29 teenage traffic deaths (13–19), an increase from the 27 teen deaths in 2017.  Teen deaths in Minnesota have decreased overall in the past decade. (There were 40 teen deaths in 2009).
  • In 2018, only 36 percent of killed motor vehicle occupant teens (13-19) were known to be buckled up.
  • In 2018, 10 percent of all teen (15-19) drivers involved in fatal crashes were known to be drinking.
  • In 2017, 737 teen drivers (15-19) were arrested for DWI.
  • In 2017, 468 people under 21 were convicted for “not-a-drop” violations. These occur when a driver has alcohol in their systems but they did not test at the .08 level or above.

Teenage Driver Crash Risk Factors

The traffic accident rates for 16- to 19-year old drivers are higher than those for any other age group. What causes teenage drivers to be such risky drivers? The following is a list of their primary risk factors.

  • Poor hazard detection: The ability to detect hazards in the driving environment depends upon perceptual and information-gathering skills and involves properly identifying stimuli as potential threats. It takes time for young novice drivers to acquire this ability.
  • Low risk perception: Risk perception involves subjectively assessing the degree of threat posed by a hazard and one's ability to deal with the threat. Young novice drivers tend to underestimate the crash risk in hazardous situations and overestimate their ability to avoid the threats they identify.
  • Risk Taking: Teenagers tend to take more risks while driving partly due to their overconfidence in their driving abilities. Young novice drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors like speeding, tailgating, running red lights, violating traffic signs and signals, making illegal turns, passing dangerously, and failure to yield to pedestrians.
  • Not wearing seat belts: Teenagers tend to wear safety belts less often than older drivers. Why?
  • Lack of skill: Novice teenage drivers have not yet completely mastered basic vehicle handling skills and safe-driving knowledge they need to drive safely.
  • Alcohol and drugs: Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is a common cause of serious crashes, especially fatal ones, involving teenage drivers. Teenagers who drink and drive are at much greater risk of serious crashes than are older drivers with equal concentrations of alcohol in their blood. 
  • Carrying passengers: For teenagers, the risk of being in a crash increases when they transport passengers-the fatality risk of drivers aged 16-17 years is 3.6 times higher when they are driving with passengers than when they are driving alone, and the relative risk of a fatal crash increases as the number of passengers increases. Passengers who are age peers may distract the teen drivers and encourage them to take more risks, especially for young males riding with young male drivers.
  • Night driving: The per mile crash rate for teenage drivers is 3 times higher after 9:00 pm during the day. This is because the task of driving at night is more difficult; they have less experience driving at night than during the day; they are more sleep deprived, and/or because teenage recreational driving, which often involves alcohol, is more likely to occur at night.
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