Problem: Motor-vehicle crash rate comparisons by age and gender usually are based on the extent to which drivers in a particular age/gender category are themselves injured or involved in crashes (e.g., the number of 20-year-old females in crashes). Basing comparisons instead on the extent to which drivers in various age/gender groups are responsible for deaths (including themselves) in their crashes is more revealing of their overall contribution to the problem.
Methods: Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS, 1996-2000) were used in the analysis, which was based on crashes that involved one or two vehicles only. Drivers in fatal single-vehicle crashes were assumed to have responsibility for the crash. In fatal two-vehicle crashes, driver operator errors reported by police were used to assign crash responsibility.
Results: When all crashes were considered, both the youngest and oldest drivers were most likely to be responsible for deaths in their crashes. In two-vehicle crashes, the oldest drivers were more likely than young drivers to be responsible. Young males were more likely than young females to be responsible for crash deaths, whereas females in their 50s and older were more likely than same-age males to be responsible. In terms of responsibility for deaths per licensed driver, young drivers, especially males, had the highest rates because of their high involvement rates and high responsibility rates. The majority of deaths for which young drivers were responsible occurred to people other than themselves, especially passengers in their vehicles, whereas the bulk of the deaths for which older drivers were responsible were their own.
Discussion: The results highlight the contribution of young drivers to the motor-vehicle crash problem, the need for measures such as passenger restrictions in graduated licensing systems, and the need for vehicle modifications to better protect older occupants.