Young female drivers in fatal crashes: recent trends, 1995---2004

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OBJECTIVE: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-to 20-year-olds. In 2004, nearly 8,000 15to 20-year-old drivers were killed in crashes. Epidemiologic studies repeatedly identify overrepresentation of young males in fatal crashes. Recent studies of young females and risk-taking behaviors (drug use, violent crime, risky sexual behavior) show unfavorable trends. The objective of this study is to study the extent of contribution of young female drivers to national fatal crashes over and to uncover unfavorable trends linked to risky driving behavior.

METHODS: Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) on drivers in crashes with one or more fatalities during 1995-2004 were studied. Five age groups were used: 16, 17, 18, 19-20, and 21-24 years. Linear regression was used to measure trends over time. The regression results represent differences in proportions and changes in proportion of crashes that fell into specified categories. The FARS multiple imputation data sets was used to estimate the proportion of drivers with positive blood alcohol, and variance estimates were corrected for the imputation procedure.

RESULTS: In all, 139,000 fatal crashes involving the noted age groups occurred over 10 years. Safety restraint use: Females had more safety restraint use (by 17.8%) but a smaller increase in use over time. Driver's license validity: The percentage of valid licensure decreased over the study for young males and females both in the general population and among drivers in fatal crashes. Single-vehicle crashes: A lower proportion of female drivers (8.9% fewer) were involved in single-vehicle fatal crashes. This proportion changed little over the study period. Alcohol use: Females had a 16.7% lower proportion than males of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes. This lower proportion was seen throughout the age groups. When accounting for change over the study period, female drivers had a similar to male increase in alcohol-involved fatal crashes. Presence of peer passengers: Female drivers were less likely to have age peers as passengers.

CONCLUSIONS: While young male drivers surpass young females in number of fatal crashes, there are unfavorable trends linked to crash fatalities in young females. Our results suggest a smaller increase in safety restraint use, proportional decrease in license validity, and an increase in rate of alcohol-involved fatal crashes that approaches that seen in young males. These findings have considerable implications for future traffic safety social marketing campaigns, programs, and interventions.

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doi: 10.1080/15389580701729881
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