Motor Vehicle

Fact Sheet

In 2012, motor vehicle-related incidents were the leading cause of unintentional deaths to children older than 4; number two for children under age 5. In the United States in 2012, 2,274 children (0-17) were killed in motor vehicle-related incidents. This includes all deaths occurring to children who are drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists or other types of occupants in a form of land transport.

Children Under 16
Proper child restraints are the key to preventing fatalities of children under 16 riding in a motor vehicle. When properly installed in passenger cars, child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 71% for children under age one, and by 54% for toddlers ages 1-4. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among children younger than five, an estimated 3,894 lives were saved by child restraints from 1975-1997.

In the U.S. in 1998, 47% of the children under age five who died in motor vehicle crashes were not restrained. Booster seats are also an important, but little used, protection for children riding in cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends booster seats for children weighing between 40 and 80 pounds. Only about six percent of children 4-8 years of age currently use booster seats when riding in motor vehicles.

Children Over 16
New teen drivers are at very high risk for causing motor vehicle crashes. In a study at the University of North Carolina, almost 70% of 16-year-olds involved in automobile crashes were at fault. This percent drops to 63% for 17-year-olds. In the largest driving population (ages 21-59), the percentage of drivers at fault is 45%. It is believed that inexperience and recklessness are the primary causes for the high rates of crashes for teen drivers. In addition, speeding was involved in 17% of crashes with 16-year-old drivers. Only five percent of drivers over age 21 were speeding at the time of the crash.

A major new finding is the increased risk of injury or death for teens when young passengers ride in the car with a new driver. One study found that 16-year-olds driving with one teen passenger were 39% more likely to get killed than those driving alone. This percentage increased to 86% with two, and 182% with three or more teen passengers. The study found further that the rates increased even more with 17-year-old drivers: 48% with one teen passenger, 158% with two, and 207% with three or more teen passengers. The study found that “general foolishness and distractions” increased with each additional teen passenger.
States that have limited the number of teen passengers in a new young driver’s car are seeing a significant reduction in fatalities. In these states, the death and injury rate for teenage passengers fell by 21% in 1999. In Massachusetts, the number of teenagers who died in motor vehicle crashes was down 15% in the first six months of 1999 after the number of teen passengers was restricted.

Major Risk Factors

Children Under 16

  • Not using or improper use of child restraints, including seatbelts, infant and booster seats.
  • Not wearing adequate safety equipment, especially helmets for motorcycles,  bicycles and all-terrain vehicles.
  • Riding in truck beds or other unrestrained areas of motor vehicles.
  • Unskilled or unsupervised drivers of recreational vehicles, including snowmobiles, jet skis, all-terrain vehicles, go-carts and dirt bikes.
  • Riding in the front seat of vehicles.
  • Small children playing in and around vehicles or crossing streets without supervision.

Children Over 16

  • New driver inexperience and/or recklessness.
  • Riding in a car with two or more teen passengers.
  • Exceeding safe speeds for driving conditions.
  • Not using appropriate restraints.
  • Riding in a car as a passenger with a new teen driver.
  • Using alcohol  while driving, or riding with someone who is under the influence of  alcohol.
  • Driving between 12 midnight and 6:00 a.m.
  • Riding in the bed of a pickup truck.

Records Needed for Case Review

  • Autopsy reports
  • Scene investigation reports and photos
  • Interviews with witnesses
  • EMS run reports
  • State Uniform Crash Reports with road and weather conditions at time of crash
  • Emergency Department reports
  • Blood alcohol and/or drug concentrations
  • Previous violations such as drunk driving or speeding
  • Any out-of-state history


Children Under 16

  • Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH): USDOT requires all new child safety seats meet stricter head protection standards.
  • Education to increase booster seat usage for children between 40 and 80 pounds.
  • Child Safety Seat Inspection Programs: innovative programs sponsored by the DOT, DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors that train dealers and others to provide on-site safety seat inspection and training.
  • Free or low-cost car seat distribution.
  • Bicycle Helmet Laws and free or reduced-cost helmets to children.
  • Truck Bed Law prohibiting children from riding in truck beds, and KIDS AREN’T CARGO, an education campaign discouraging truck bed riding.
  • Re-engineer roads and improve signage.

Children Over 16

  • Graduated Licensing Law: including supervised practice; crash and conviction free requirements for a minimum of six months; limits on number of teen passengers; nighttime driving restrictions; and mandatory seat belt use for all occupants.
  • Teen Driver Monitoring Programs: Street Watch and SAV-TEEN mark teen cars and allow anyone observing poor driving habits to report them to law enforcement. Law enforcement either visits the teen’s home or reports the incident to the parents or owner of the car.
  • Driver Education: Customize local programs to emphasize most common risk factors, e.g., off-road recovery on gravel roads in rural communities.
  • Seat Belts: Education to increase adolescent seat belt use and primary seat belt enforcement laws.
  • Re-engineer roads and improve signage.