More than 70,000 American children and teens ages 19 and younger died in fatal motor vehicle accidents from 2004 through 2018 (the latest available data). Location and population density play an integral role in how safe roads are for youths. As more vehicles again fill roadways, we crunched the numbers at the state level to find where fatality rates are highest and lowest for this age group.
- Mississippi had the highest motor vehicle fatality rate for children and teens at 10.6 deaths per 100,000 from 2014 through 2018. That was nearly nine times greater than the rate during that period in the District of Columbia.
- Northeast states tended to have the lowest motor vehicle fatality rates. New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island all rank in the bottom 10.
- More than 4 in 10 (42%) children and teens killed in auto crashes from 2014 through 2018 were passengers. The same percentage — 42% — were drivers.
- Since 2004, the number of children and teens who’ve died yearly in auto crashes has dropped by more than 50%. In 2004, 7,290 children and teens died in auto crashes, versus 3,356 in 2018.
States with highest motor vehicle fatality rates for children, teens
Children and teens 19 and younger died in Mississippi auto accidents at a rate of 10.6 per 100,000 from 2014 through 2018. Over that period, more than 85 people in that age group died yearly in crashes. In Mississippi, 94% of commuters drive — the highest in the country — putting more people on the roadways.
Wyoming has the second-highest fatality rate — 9.9 per 100,000 — for children and teens in auto crashes. Wyoming also has the second-lowest population density in the U.S., which means travelers in remote areas may have longer trips to get to work or the grocery store, increasing driver fatigue.
Montana has a motor vehicle fatality rate of 9.3 per 100,000. The state has nearly 259,000 children and teens 19 and younger. From 2014 through 2018, 24 people in that age group were killed yearly in auto crashes. Montana is also sparsely populated, introducing the potential for lots of driving and lots of miles.
States with lowest motor vehicle fatality rates for children, teens
1. District of Columbia
The District of Columbia’s motor vehicle fatality rate is 1.2 per 100,000 children and teens. From 2014 through 2018, just under two children died yearly in car crashes. D.C. is by far the densest of any state, meaning less driving and fewer chances for children and teens to be involved in crashes, whether as passengers or drivers. In fact, estimates show that less than 40% of D.C. workers commute by car, the lowest in the nation.
2. New York
New York has a motor vehicle fatality rate for children and teens of 1.9 per 100,000. From 2014 through 2018, nearly 87 children died yearly there in car crashes. New York as a whole ranks in the top 10 for population density, but it varies widely across the state. New York City, for example, has a population density of 27,900 residents per square mile, compared with the state’s level of 415.
Massachusetts has a motor vehicle fatality rate for children of 1.9 per 100,000. The state — which has the fourth-highest population density — has an under-20 population of 1.6 million. There were just more than 30 deaths yearly from 2014 through 2018.
Population density linked to fatality rate for children, teens
The states with the highest motor vehicle fatality rates for children and teens from 2014 through 2018 tend to be in sparsely populated states, like those in the Great Plains. And the more densely populated Northeast tends to have lower fatality rates.
Less densely populated areas tend to be riskier for crash deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because seat belt use is not as common in rural areas. Cities, counties or states often roll out increased enforcement of seat belt laws to raise awareness, especially with young children. (AAA details child passenger safety laws by state for those who don’t know what rules are in place.)
In more remote areas with less traffic, high speeds can also play a factor in increasing the risk for car crashes.
Majority of children, teens in fatal accidents were passengers or drivers
About 84% of children and teens killed in motor vehicle accidents are either the driver or the passenger. With more Americans hitting the road again as coronavirus restrictions are scaled back in certain areas, drivers who may not have been behind the wheel as often in the past six months will need to be more cognizant.
By September 22, driving in the U.S. was up 21% relative to January, which is down from its peak earlier in the month when driving was up 70% relative to the beginning of the year.
Separately, about 12% of motor vehicle accident deaths involve children as pedestrians.
Number of children, teens killed yearly in car crashes down 54% from 2004
The number of children and teens who died yearly in car crashes steadily declined from 7,290 in 2004 to 3,483 in 2013. Between 2014 and 2016, those figures started to creep up, reaching 3,870 in 2016.
But in 2017 and 2018, the number of children and teens killed in auto accidents fell. In 2018, 3,356 children died in car accidents, which is down 54% from the 2004 figure.
ValuePenguin analyzed data on the number of children and teens 19 and younger who died in car crashes to estimate the motor vehicle fatality rate per 100,000 in every state, as well as the District of Columbia, over a five-year period from 2014 to 2018. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) was used for vehicle fatalities data from 2004 to 2018. 2018 Census Bureau data was used for population estimates.