Who Causes More Car Accidents? The Data May Surprise You

Seniors vs. Teens

Answer: Teens

We expect mistakes from young drivers, but the first few years are pretty risky. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), drivers ages 16-19 are three times more likely to crash than drivers over 20.

These novice drivers cause significantly more car accidents than seniors: The United States Census Bureau calculates 12.2 percent of car accidents are the responsibility of teen drivers while 7.5 percent of accidents are caused by drivers over 65.

That reality may be changing. All 50 states have adopted a Graduated Drivers Licensing GDL programs, helping to effectively reduce teen accidents.

Meanwhile advocacy groups like Teen Driver Source and Distraction.gov are working to raise awareness about chronic risk factors including cell phone use, passenger distraction, impulsive/aggressive road behavior, impaired driving and lack of seatbelt use.

Fewer young people are getting their driver’s licenses and when they do, they are driving fewer miles.

The life expectancy for car-dependent seniors, however, is steadily increasing. Impairments associated with aging – including slow response time and compromised vision and hearing – could have a staggering effect on road safety.

Men vs. Women

Answer: Men

Men get more DUIs, traffic violations and are deemed responsible for a greater portion of car accidents.

But they also drive more miles than women—a lot more. Although a recent study indicates there are over one million more licensed female drivers than licensed male drivers, men drive about 40 percent more miles per year.

Some subject experts hypothesize that men – particular men under 25 – get in more accidents because they’re more prone to aggressive behavior and risk taking.

But let’s look at the numbers:

So men account for roughly 1.73^12 miles driven per year, while women drive a combined total of 1.07^12 miles per year.

That means men drive about 30 percent more miles than women. Yet, they’re implicated in slightly less than 30 percent of car accidents. Men do cause more accidents, but they are actually less at-risk than women, by a small margin.

Cyclist Vs. Drivers

Answer: Cyclists

Recent studies suggest that drivers and cyclists are equally responsible for causing bike accidents.

That said, a cyclists is twice as likely as a motorist to get into an accident. Most of these accidents, however, have nothing to do with cars – only a third of bicycle accidents are car collisions. This also includes situations where bikers were in bike lanes, physically walled off areas, and semi-walled areas with safety cones or other traffic equipment.

Other leading causes include falls, poor road conditions, and dog attacks according to the 2012 NHTSA survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behaviors. Statistically speaking, drivers are at fault about 15 percent of the time.

The overarching cause of bike accidents could have more to do with bike hostile roads.

Poor surfacing, inadequate bike lanes, lack of signage and lack of education make it difficult for cyclists and drivers to share space. Thankfully, the growing protected bike lane movement combined with nascent awareness of  bicycles as special vehicles is helping to change that.

Lifestyle choices can indicate accident likelihood…

States are increasingly considering policies that curb the insurance industry’s use of demographics in determining an individual’s rates. Nonetheless, auto insurance companies tend to charge:

More for Stockbrokers than scientists – The logic being that people who pursue risk in their careers will also pursue it on the road.

More for Urbanites than rural dwellers – Rural drivers are more likely to be involved in a road fatality due to high speed limits, poorer road conditions and increased rates of intoxicated driving. Yet, 80 percent of reported accidents take place in urban areas.

Less for PHDs than GEDs – Up to $500 per year less. Insurance companies stagger rates based on the highest degree obtained. The biggest jump is between drivers who earned a high school diploma and those who did not.

Less if you are married – Some studies actually demonstrate drivers are half as likely to get injured in a car accident if they have a spouse.

In any case, get yourself some traffic cones and keep those public roadways visible 🙂

Photo by Steve Freling of Motor Oomph


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  3. To say that teens cause more accidents than seniors, while true, likely doesn’t account for the population of teen drivers vs senior drivers.

    1. Alex – that’s a solid point for consideration, although there does seem to be a number of other factors  that could be affecting Seniors ability to safely operate cars – which would offset the population figures.

      1. I am a teen and a very safe driver, however I am not compelled to defend my generation. I have experienced first-hand how many people my age are ignorant drivers. Many have almost gotten me into accidents. Thank goodness Im a defensive driver.

  4. Women cause a higher % of accidents…men cause an accident every 2,829 miles and women cause an accident every 2,436 miles. If women stayed at that % and drove as many miles…they would have 7.1 million accidents a year. So stat wise…women are worse.

    1. Your math seems a few orders of magnitude off…men would be every 286,776 miles and women every 240,412 on average. But the premise is true that women would have more accidents in a given mileage…unfortunately insurance rates are based on a time period of coverage not a fixed mileage, and they do factor in that men drive more on average.

  5. You math is totally incorrect. I’ve no idea how you think 1.73 is 30% higher than 1.07. It’s 62% higher, so if men drive 62% more miles than women but only cause 40% more accidents, women are much more likely to cause wrecks.

  6. I like how the men are taking great pains to *repeat* the per capita ratio for men & women (even with mistakes), but they don’t care to argue the same point about teens & seniors and bikes & cars, which also have the same pet per capita issues. Could it be it’s not about veracity of data for them? “Just gimme the win. I don’t care about integrity of standards really.”

  7. I can’t seem to find anything current on Traffic Stats based on Ethnicity either. It almost seems as if the NHTSA stopped keeping track (or were asked to by someone to stop releasing the information) after 2007 (Or hid it better since there was a mass influx of legal and illegal immigration, and probably would have giving anti-immigration advocates ammunition) But here is what is still out there.



  8. I really enjoyed the demographic comparisons and statistics in this article. I am an avid cyclist in my spare time, so I will definitely keep the information about cyclist vs. drivers in mind the next time I hop on my bike.

  9. I have a very, very hard time believing that marriage in and of itself provides protection against accidents beyond the age of 25 or so. Yes, people who marry young may be generally more responsible in life and so may also be more responsible behind the wheel, but I really can’t believe that, all other factors being equal, a 40 year old who gets married magically becomes a better driver. I think factoring marital status into insurance premiums beyond a certain age is discriminatory.

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