Getting a driver’s license is considered a rite of passage in American culture. But this exciting coming-of-age has instead become a death sentence for thousands of teens each year. Motor-vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of death among the population aged 16 to 19, which also happens to be the age group with the highest risk of crashes.
The financial implications are staggering, too. In 2018, motor vehicle crashes involving 15- to 19-year-olds resulted in $4.8 billion in costs from medical expenses and work loss. That’s not counting the costs of auto maintenance, insurance premiums, possible traffic citations and other vehicular incidents — expenses that can pile up over time.
To help parents ensure their teens’ safety while also safeguarding their finances, WalletHub analyzed the teen-driving environment in each of the 50 states using a collection of 23 key metrics. Our data set ranges from the number of teen driver fatalities to the average cost of car repairs to the presence of impaired-driving laws.
Best States for Teen Drivers
Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that state, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.
Although teens are responsible for their own actions, parents shoulder much of the emotional and financial consequences when things go south. In areas where teen deaths resulting from car crashes are most prevalent, it’s also up to lawmakers to implement programs and policies to reduce those numbers. For additional insight and advice, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the following key questions:
- What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?
- What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?
- What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?
- Should we increase the age at which an individual is eligible for a license to 18?
- Though the ongoing pandemic has limited the number of miles traveled, traffic deaths saw an 8% increase in 2020 over 2019, and speed seems to be the top factor that caused them. Taking into account that the proportion of fatal crashes that involved speeding was higher for teenage drivers (43%) than for any other age groups, should parents be concerned about the safety of their teen drivers?
- What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the best and worst states for teen drivers, WalletHub analyzed the teen-driving environment in the 50 states across three key dimensions: 1) Safety, 2) Economic Environment and 3) Driving Laws.
We evaluated those dimensions using 23 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for teen drivers. For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), the square root of the population was used to calculate the “Number of Residents” in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across states.
We then determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Safety – Total Points: 50
- Teen Driver Fatalities per 100,000 Teens: Double Weight (~8.00 Points)
- Vehicle Miles Traveled per Capita: Half Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Traffic Indiscipline: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
Note: This is a composite metric that measures incidents due to poor behavior: phone use, speeding, aggressive acceleration, harsh braking, and poor turning.
- Teen “Under the Influence” Traffic Violations per 100,000 Teens: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
- Share of Teen Drinking & Driving: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
- Share of Teen Texting/Emailing While Driving: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
- Share of Teenagers Aged 18 to 24 Always or Nearly Always Wearing a Seatbelt: Double Weight (~8.00 Points)
- Cost of Teen Crash-Related Deaths per 100,000 Teens: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
- Quality of Roads: Double Weight (~8.00 Points)
- Driving Schools per Capita*: Full Weight (~4.00 Points)
Economic Environment – Total Points: 40
- Maximum Cost of Speeding Ticket: Half Weight (~2.67 Points)
- Maximum Cost of Red-Light Ticket: Half Weight (~2.67 Points)
- Maximum Amount of First-Offense Fines for Not Wearing Seat Belt: Half Weight (~2.67 Points)
- Premium Increase After Adding Teen Driver to Parent’s Auto-Insurance Policy: Double Weight (~10.67 Points)
- Average Cost of Car Repairs: Full Weight (~5.33 Points)
- Average Gas Prices: Double Weight (~10.67 Points)
- Punitiveness of Insurance Companies Toward High-Risk Drivers: Full Weight (~5.33 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “States with the Highest & Lowest Insurance-Premium Penalties for High-Risk Drivers” ranking.
Driving Laws – Total Points: 10
- Provision of Teen Driver's Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program Laws: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Presence of Occupant-Protection Laws: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Presence of Impaired-Driving Laws: Half Weight (~1.00 Points)
- Presence of Distracted-Driving/Texting-While-Driving Laws: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Presence of Red-Light & Speeding-Camera Laws: Half Weight (~1.00 Points)
- Leniency Toward DUI Violations: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Strictest & Most Lenient States on DUI” ranking.
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, EverQuote, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Road Information Program, CarMD, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, CarInsurance.com, the Governors Highway Safety Association, American Automobile Association and WalletHub research.