Serious Teen Crashes: Identification of the Most Common Scenarios and Factors

Co-Principal Investigators: Allison Curry, PhD, MPH, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Catherine McDonald, PhD, RN, The University of Pennsylvania

Below is an executive summary of this project. Please note that this summary describes results and interpretation that may not be final. Final interpretation of results will be in the peer-reviewed literature.

This table indicates the top five teen crash scenarios, accounting for 37.3 percent of serious teen driver crashes.

Despite the societal burden of motor vehicle crashes, how and why teens get into crashes has not been well understood on a scientific level. This study allowed CChIPS researchers to analyze data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS) to determine the leading scenarios of serious crashes 

The multidisciplinary team documented the five most frequent crash scenarios for teen drivers involved in serious motor vehicle crashes from 2005-2007: rear-end crashes, two types of left turn intersection crashes that occurred when the teen was turning left into or across the path of another vehicle, and two types of running-off-the-road events that occurred after either negotiating a curve or after going straight. These five crash scenarios accounted for 37.3 percent of teen (ages 16-19) and 28.7 percent of adult (ages 35-54) serious crashes in that time period. Rear-end and left turn intersection crashes were primarily due to recognition errors, which include poor driver surveillance and distraction, and decision errors, which include following too closely and traveling too fast for conditions. The majority of run-off-road events, however, resulted from decision errors or poor driver performance (e.g., overcompensating) or from non-performance errors (e.g., fatigue).

This research is helping to identify how and why teen drivers get into serious motor vehicle crashes. By identifying the most frequent crash scenarios and causal factors leading up to a crash, this study provides key information that may help ensure that crash avoidance technology, behavioral interventions, educational programs, driving simulation scenarios, and legislation target the most common and modifiable risk factors for teen crashes. Engineers had previously focused development of driver assistance technology on the performance of adult drivers. Now, with this research, they have the knowledge needed to target crash prevention efforts specifically toward young drivers—the group at highest risk.

Project Team Members

Flaura Winston, MD, PhD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Marilyn Sommers, PhD, RN, University of Pennsylvania; Venk Kandadai, MPH, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


Melissa Morrison, Franklin College Switzerland 

IAB Mentors

Doug Longhitano, American Honda Motor Co., Inc.; Mark Mynatt and Rodney Rudd, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Clayne Woodbury, Realtime Technologies Inc.; Christina Mullen, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company; Kazuo Higuchi, TK Holdings Inc.