Fact sheet

18- to 24-year-olds: young drivers


The fatality rate (fatalities per distance travelled) of young drivers (18- to 24-year-olds) is more than five times higher than that of drivers between the ages of 30 and 59 years. The fatality rate of young males is even as much as ten times higher.

The high risk of young drivers is due to both lack of experience and to age-related factors. The latter include the development of the brain, their extra sensitivity to the social environment and the effect of factors such as alcohol, drugs and distraction. In relation with driving experience, young drivers have inadequate higher-order skills such as hazard perception and being capable of adjusting the risk to their own abilities.

In the past fifteen years, different measures have been implemented in Netherlands to improve the safety of young novice drivers. Important issues for the young drivers of the future stem from developments like social media, increasing traffic volumes and vehicle automation.


How many casualties occur in crashes involving young drivers?

In the period 2012-2014, the Netherlands counted an average of 80 road deaths per year in crashes involving a car that was driven by a young driver (18 to 24 years old). On average, 37 of these road deaths were young drivers themselves, 12 deaths were passengers of a young driver, and 31 road deaths occurred among the crash opponents. In the same period, there were an estimated [i] 1050 to 1200 serious road injuries per year in car crashes with an 18- to 24-year-old behind the wheel. These casualties were the young drivers themselves in an average of 30% of the crashes, in about 15% of the crashes these were the passengers of the young driver and in about 55% the casualties occurred among the crash opponent.

During the period 2012-2014, 22% of all road deaths in crashes with passenger vehicles were casualties in crashes involving a young driver. This is remarkable because this age group constitutes less than 10% of all licence owners.

The number of road crash casualties is directly affected by the mobility and also by shifts in mode of transport, for example from car to bike, or from car to public transport [1] [2]. These shifts may occur suddenly among young people and also may be large in size, because young people are still flexible in their choice of transport mode and can be influenced by factors such as financial incentives, need, priority, and experience [3].

[i] As no recent data is available, this estimate is based on the trends for the distinguished groups combined with the trend for all casualties in crashes in which a car was involved.

Do young drivers have a higher risk of crashes than more experienced drivers?

Yes, per distance travelled young drivers (18-24 years old) in the Netherlands are involved in a fatal crash more than five times as often as drivers between the ages of 30 and 59 years old. The risk of young men is even nine times higher than that of 30 -59-year-olds (males and females). This high risk of crashes is not unique to the Netherlands. It exists worldwide, everywhere where young people may participate in traffic independently after getting their license [4].

While in the Netherlands the crash rate has fallen considerably in recent decades (archived SWOV Fact sheet Risk in traffic), young male drivers have not benefited. In the early 1990s the risk of a fatal crash per kilometre travelled was about a factor of four higher for young males than for more experienced drivers (Figure 1). During the period 2011-2014, this difference increased to about a factor of ten. The development of the risk of young female drivers, however, has kept pace with that of more experienced drivers: over the whole period their risk remains approximately twice as high.


Figure 1. The risk of a crash with fatal outcome per kilometre driven (passenger cars) by young male and female drivers compared with that of (male and female) drivers between 30 and 59 years-old during the period 1987-2014. Sources: Statistics Netherlands; Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.
How does the crash rate develop during the driving career?

The risk of a crash is highest immediately after passing the driving test and rapidly declines during the following years as a result of gaining experience (Figure 2). There is also a relationship with age, since the younger one starts to drive, the higher the crash rate at the start of the driving career.


Figure 2. Decrease in the crash rates of novice drivers starting their driving career early and novice drivers starting their driving career later or late (based on self-reported crashes and self-reported distance travelled [5].
In what kind of crashes are young drivers over-represented?

Young novice drivers are over-represented the most in single vehicle crashes: crashes in which no other party is involved. The first years after having passed the driving test, the number of single vehicle crashes declines fairly rapidly. Young drivers also have relatively more collisions with other motor vehicles. This over-representation is smaller than for single vehicle crashes, but declines less rapidly. Apparently young drivers learn to control their own vehicle faster than to anticipate other road users’ behaviour correctly. Furthermore, young novice drivers are relatively often involved in night time crashes, especially in weekend nights.

Why do young drivers have a higher crash rate?

Their high crash involvement risk stems from a combination of factors that are related with age as well as with lack of experience.

Biological factors

The brain is not fully developed until the age of about 25. The part of the brain that, among other things, ensures that we think before we act is the last part of the brain to be fully developed. The part that controls emotion, motivation and satisfaction of needs is activated much earlier under the influence of the pubertal hormones [6]. This asynchronous development causes young adults to be more inclined to take risks, to be sensitive to peer pressure, and to be focussed on satisfying their needs, such as ‘fun’ [7].

Social-psychological factors

For young people a car is not only a means of transport; often it also means status and freedom. Young drivers who care about cars, do a lot of driving and/or youths who go out a lot have a higher than average crash rate [8]. A 'sporty driving style' is used to impress friends. Young male drivers with other young men as passengers have a higher risk of crashes than young male drivers without passengers. Driving with a middle-aged passenger, however, decreases the crash risk (archived SWOV Fact sheet Young drivers and their young passengers).

Cognitive-psychological factors

The ability to properly perform the driving task may temporarily be affected by - for example - alcohol, drugs, distraction or fatigue. If we compare young drivers with middle-aged drivers, we can make the following observations about the influence of such factors:

  • Young male drivers drive under the influence of drugs more often than middle-aged drivers (SWOV Fact sheet The use of drugs and medicines behind the wheel).
  • On weekend nights, young men are not under the influence of alcohol more often than middle-aged drivers. However, drunk young males who also carry passengers are a group that needs special interest as they have an extremely high crash rate; 60% of all young men who are above the limit carry one or more passengers in the car [9].
  • Young drivers are more frequently distracted by young passengers (archived SWOV Fact sheet Young drivers and their young passengers) and by the use of media devices and mobile phones; this increases the crash risk considerably [10].
  • Fatigue plays a greater role for young drivers, because they drive relatively often at night when there is a natural tendency to fall asleep (SWOV Fact sheet Fatigue in traffic, causes and effects) and because they often do not feel well rested, among other things because biologically they are not yet fully mature [11].

Lack of higher order skills

Many crashes involving young drivers are due to lack of higher-order skills. Young drivers, for example, are not yet able to predict how traffic situations will develop. This means that they are less capable of anticipating possible hazards than experienced drivers [12]. Nor do they assess risks well and are they inclined to overestimate their skills. As a result, they do not sufficiently adjust their (risky) behaviour to match their level of skills [13].

Exposure to danger

Relatively often young drivers drive in conditions that also increase the risk of crashes and injury for experienced drivers: they more often drive in somewhat older cars with fewer passive and active safety features and they drive in the dark more often.

Which measures have been taken and what were their effects?

Since 1905, a driver's license is necessary for drivers of motor vehicles, and since 1927 this requires passing an exam. At present, this exam consists of a practical and a theoretical part. To prepare for the practical part one may only practice on public roads with a qualified driving instructor and in a car with dual control.

Over the past 15 years, several measures were introduced in the Netherlands to improve road safety for young drivers; they can be found in the infographic below.

What effects have they had?

A first evaluation of the beginner’s licence did not show any safety benefits [14]. This is similar to the findings in both Germany and England (archived SWOV Fact sheet Demerit points systems).

The introduction of the lower alcohol limit for novice drivers has not been evaluated. An estimate that SWOV made in 1999 indicated that at unchanged enforcement it could have resulted in a 5% decline of the total number of alcohol crashes in the Netherlands [15].

LEMA participants are included in a multi-year recidivism study that was started in 2009. Interim and still incomplete results indicate that the LEMA course may contribute to reducing recidivism ([16]; see also the archived SWOV Fact sheet Rehabilitation courses for road users).

The safety effect of hazard perception as part of the theory test has not (yet) been investigated in the Netherlands. In England this measure has resulted in a slight decline of the crash rate for novice drivers (archived SWOV Fact sheet Training hazard perception).

A first evaluation of the accompanied driving experiment 2toDrive, which was based on self-reported information, did not provide conclusive evidence about its safety effects [17]. However, positive effects were reported from, among others, Sweden and Germany (for a survey see the archived SWOV Fact sheet Accompanied driving).

What else can be done?

Beside the measures that have already been implemented, there are yet other possibilities to increase the safety of this target group.

A second phase in driver training

Some countries have a mandatory second phase in the driver training. Other countries, among which the Netherlands, have a voluntary phase. A second phase usually consists of one-day training some months after the driving test has been passed. This can be effective, if these training are intended to improve traffic insight, self-insight, hazard perception, risk awareness and risk acceptance, but do not focus on vehicle control skills like anti-skid training ([18]; see also the archived SWOV Fact sheet Post-licence training for novice drivers.

Avoiding dangerous conditions

Several countries have an intermediate phase before the full licence can be obtained. In the intermediate phase the novice driver is allowed to drive solo, but not under conditions that provide an increased risk. This often includes a zero-limit for alcohol, no driving in the dark, and no driving with passengers. This approach, which mostly is a phase in a so-called graduated driver licensing system, has a positive effect on the crash-involvement of young novice drivers ([19]; see also the archived SWOV Fact sheet Graduated driver licensing).

In-vehicle monitoring and feedback

In-vehicle devices make it possible to monitor certain aspects of the driving behaviour of young novice drivers (e.g. hard braking, excessively fast acceleration, speeding through curves) and providing feedback. Feedback can be given ‘real-time’ in the vehicle or later, after one or more trips. it is also possible to provide the parents with feedback on the child’s driving behaviour. Such systems can lead to a more gentle style of driving, at least as long as the device is present within the car [20]. Providing the parent with feedback, however, remains a controversial issue [21]. Feedback can also be linked with a reward system. A Dutch trial with rewarding and speed behaviour of young novice drivers showed a positive effect as long as a lower insurance premium could be earned. The effect disappeared as soon as the reward was no longer given [22].

Which are the problems of the future?

The rise of self-driving vehicles, the use of social media, the increasing traffic volumes and rising complexity of traffic conditions are (other) important developments that may have an effect on the safety of young novice drivers:

  • In (partly) self-driving vehicles it is essential that drivers can resume control of the vehicle at any given moment. It is important to know whether young novice drivers will be sufficiently skilled to do this if they gain their driving experience in vehicles that drive most of the time in automatic mode..  
  • Social media have great influence and appeal to young people. Their influence is expected to increase further. The question is if and how the dangers of distraction by social media while driving can be controlled.
  • Young male drivers are found to benefit insufficiently from existing safety measures. An important question is therefore which measures can be effective, specifically for this group.
Publications and sources

1. Stipdonk, H. & Reurings, M. (2012). The effect on road safety of a modal shift from car to bicycle. In: Traffic Injury Prevention, vol. 13, nr. 4, p. 412-421.

2. Twisk, D.A.M. (2000). Why did the accident involvement of young (male) drivers drop with about 50%? In: Proceedings of the 10th seminar on behavioural research in road safety, 3-5 April 2000, Esher, United Kingdom, p. 109-117.

3. Goudappel Coffeng & Young Works (2015). Jongeren en mobiliteit: Een onderzoek naar het jongerenperspectief op mobiliteit: typering van doelgroepsegmenten, waarden en motivaties en mobiliteitsgedrag. Aanknopingspunten voor beleid en interventies. Goudappel Coffeng /Young Works, Amsterdam.

4. OECD & ECMT (2006). Young drivers: the road to safety. Joint OECD/ECMT Transport Research Centre, Paris.

5. Vlakveld, W.P. (2005). Jonge beginnende automobilisten, hun ongevalsrisico en maatregelen om dit terug te dringen; Een literatuurstudie. R-2005-3. SWOV, Leidschendam.

6. Gogtay, N., Giedd, J.N., Lusk, L., Hayashi, K.M., et al. (2004). Dynamic mapping of human cortical development during childhood through early adulthood. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 101, nr. 21, p. 8174-8179.

7. Steinberg, L. (2008). A social neuroscience perspective on adolescent risk-taking. In: Developmental Review, vol. 28, nr. 1, p. 78-106.

8. Møller, M. & Sigurðardóttir, S.B. (2009). The relationship between leisure time and driving style in two groups of male drivers. In: Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, vol. 12, nr. 6, p. 462-469.

9. Houwing, S., Twisk, D. & Waard, D. de (2015). Alcoholgebruik van jongeren in het verkeer op stapavonden. R-2015-12. SWOV, Den Haag.

10. Klauer, S.G., Guo, F., Simons-Morton, B.G., Ouimet, M.C., et al. (2014). Distracted driving and risk of road crashes among novice and experienced drivers. In: New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 370, nr. 1, p. 54-59.

11. Groeger, J.A. (2006). Youthfulness, inexperience, and sleep loss: the problems young drivers face and those they pose for us. In: Injury Prevention, vol. 12, nr. suppl 1, p. i19-i24.

12. Vlakveld, W.P. (2011). Hazard anticipation of young novice drivers: assessing and enhancing the capabilities of young novice drivers to anticipate latent hazards in road and traffic situations. Proefschrift Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. SWOV Dissertatiereeks, SWOV, Leidschendam.

13. Craen, S. de (2010). The X-factor; a longitudinal study of calibration in young novice drivers. Proefschrift Technische Universiteit Delft. SWOV Dissertatiereeks. SWOV, Leidschendam.

14. Vlakveld, W.P. & Stipdonk, H.L. (2009). Eerste verkenning naar de effectiviteit van het beginnersrijbewijs in Nederland. D-2009-2. SWOV, Leidschendam.

15. Mathijssen, M.P.M. (1999). Schatting van de effecten van verlaging van de wettelijke limiet voor alcoholgebruik in het verkeer. R-99-11. SWOV, Leidschendam.

16. Blom, M. (2014). Recidivemeting LEMA en EMG 2009-2010, achtergrondkenmerken en strafrechtelijke recidive van de eerste LEMA- en EMG-deelnemers- tussentijdse rapportage. Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum WODC, Den Haag.

17. Schagen, I. van & Craen, S. de (2015). Begeleid rijden in Nederland; heeft 2toDrive effect op zelfgerapporteerde ongevallen en overtredingen? R-2015-11. SWOV, Den Haag.

18. Bartl, G., Baughan, C., Fougere, J.-P., Gregersen, N.-P., et al. (2002). The EU ADVANCED project: Description and analysis of post-licence driver and rider training. Final Report. Commission Internationale des Examens de Conduite Automobile CIECA, Rijswijk.

19. Senserrick, T.M. & Williams, A.F. (2015). Summary of literature of the effective components of graduated driver licensing systems. Research Report AP-R476-15. Austroads, Sydney.

20. Simons-Morton, B.G., Ouimet, M.C., Zhang, Z., Klauer, S.E., et al. (2011). Crash and risky driving involvement among novice adolescent drivers and their parents. In: American Journal of Public Health, vol. 101, nr. 12, p. 2362-2367.

21. Guttman, N. & Lotan, T. (2011). Spying or steering? Views of parents of young novice drivers on the use and ethics of driver-monitoring technologies. In: Accident Analysis & Prevention, vol. 43, nr. 1, p. 412-420.

22. Bolderdijk, J.W., Knockaert, J., Steg, E.M. & Verhoef, E.T. (2011). Effects of Pay-As-You-Drive vehicle insurance on young drivers' speed choice: Results of a Dutch field experiment. In: Accident Analysis & Prevention, vol. 43, nr. 3, p. 1181-1186.

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11 May 2016