New Jersey is the best state for teen drivers in 2021. The Garden State finished second the past two years’ Carinsurance.com study.
Carinsurance.com’s fifth teen driver study found that New Jersey performed well by having lower teen driver fatality rates, strong graduated drivers licensing (GDL) laws and low drinking and driving and texting while driving rates for high school students.
Last year’s winner, Alaska, finished in fifth this year.
Here are the top 10 in 2021:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- Alaska (2020’s best state for teen drivers)
- New York (2019’s best state for teen drivers)
- Massachusetts (2016’s best state for teen drivers)
Carinsurance.com’s teen driver study measures multiple metrics to find the best and worst states for teen drivers. The weighted metrics with the most influence on the results are teen driver fatalities by teen drivers and state GDL laws. Those two metrics combine to make up half of the final score.
New Jersey is the top state this year after two second-place finishes, but what states fared the worst?
Montana finished last for the fourth time in five years. The only year that Montana didn’t finish last was in 2019 when it came in second to last.
Montana’s ranking was influenced by high teen driver insurance costs, few GDL laws and high percentages of teens who admit to texting and drinking while driving and drinking and driving.
Here are the bottom 10 states in the study:
49. South Dakota
42. District of Columbia
Safest and least safe states for teen drivers
CarInsurance.com analyzed six teen-driving metrics to identify the best and worst states for teen drivers:
- Number of teen driver fatalities per 10,000 licensed teen drivers
- Breadth of Graduated Driving License (GDL) laws
- Average annual insurance costs for teen drivers
- Drinking and driving rates for high schoolers
- Emailing/texting and driving rates for high schoolers
- Seat belt use for high schoolers
We gave each state a weighted score to determine rankings.
- Alaska (AK)
- Alabama (AL)
- Arizona (AZ)
- Arkansas (AR)
- California (CA)
- Colorado (CO)
- Connecticut (CT)
- Delaware (DE)
- Florida (FL)
- Georgia (GA)
- Hawaii (HI)
- Idaho (ID)
- Illinois (IL)
- Indiana (IN)
- Iowa (IA)
- Kansas (KS)
- Kentucky (KY)
- Louisiana (LA)
- Maine (ME)
- Maryland (MD)
- Massachusetts (MA)
- Michigan (MI)
- Minnesota (MN)
- Mississippi (MS)
- Missouri (MO)
- Montana (MT)
- Nebraska (NE)
- Nevada (NV)
- New Hampshire (NH)
- New Mexico (NM)
- New York (NY)
- New Jersey (NJ)
- North Carolina (NC)
- North Dakota (ND)
- Ohio (OH)
- Oklahoma (OK)
- Oregon (OR)
- Pennsylvania (PA)
- Rhode Island (RI)
- South Carolina (SC)
- South Dakota (SD)
- Tennessee (TN)
- Texas (TX)
- Utah (UT)
- Vermont (VT)
- Virginia (VA)
- Washington (WA)
- Washington D.C. (DC)
- West Virginia (WV)
- Wisconsin (WI)
- Wyoming (WY)
Comparing 2021 to previous years
Since starting the teen driver study in 2016, Carinsurance.com has seen many state rankings fluctuate. For instance, states in the top 10 this year — like Maine, Rhode Island and Illinois — skyrocketed from the previous study.
We’ve also found consistency, such as New Jersey, which has finished in the top two for the past three years. Meanwhile, states like Montana, Arkansas, Wyoming and Mississippi are consistently in the bottom 10.
Here’s how each state has finished for each of our five teen driver studies.
Teen driver fatalities
Nearly 2,400 teenagers died in motor vehicle accidents in 2019. That’s a considerable drop compared to generations ago. Even in the early 21st century, the annual fatality number was more than 5,000.
Despite the improved numbers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said teens are still “significantly over-represented in fatal crashes.” Young drivers are twice as likely to get into a fatal accident than adult drivers.
We used the latest by state teen driver fatality numbers and divided them by the number of licensed teen drivers from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. The fatal crash result by state was multiplied by 10,000 to get a rate per 10,000 teen drivers.
Here are the places with the lowest teen driver fatalities by 10,000 licensed teen drivers:
- North Dakota (0 per 10,000 teen drivers)
- Rhode Island (0.38 per 10,000 teen drivers)
- Massachusetts (0.61 per 10,000 teen drivers)
- New Jersey (0.75 per 10,000 teen drivers)
- New York (0.95 per 10,000 teen drivers)
Not all states performed as well. Here are the areas with the highest teen driver fatalities by 10,000 licensed teens:
- District of Columbia (11.4 per 10,000 teen drivers)
- Kentucky (5.18 per 10,000 teen drivers)
- Arkansas (4.55 per 10,000 teen drivers)
- Wyoming (3.9 per 10,000 teen drivers)
- Montana (3.64 per 10,000 teen drivers)
GDL laws and their effect on teen driver safety
GDL laws are in place to lessen a teen’s risk behind the wheel. These laws include restricting who drives in a teen’s vehicle, when they can operate a car and forbidding acts that might distract them, such as texting.
Studies show that strong GDL laws lead to lower teen driver fatalities.
Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety’s 18th Annual Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws released in 2021 listed GDL laws by state. The report found the following have the most GDL laws:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- District of Columbia
The states with the fewest GDL laws are:
The NHTSA and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) agree that GDL laws are crucial to reducing fatal accidents for teens. Jennifer Ryan, AAA director of state relations, said teens have a higher probability of being in crashes. When a teen driver is on the road, everyone — including other drivers and pedestrians — is at a higher risk.
However, one issue that GHSA has found is that GDL laws usually stop at the age of 18, which means older teens have fewer driving restrictions. This could be a factor in the higher percentage of fatal crashes for older teens. Many teens wait to get their licenses at 18 or 19. So, they don’t have to comply with GDL restrictions — despite being new drivers.
To combat this issue, the GHSA suggests that states increase GDL laws for drivers until the age of 21.
Teen driver insurance rates
Michigan and Louisiana have the highest average teen driver insurance costs (more than $6,000). Those two states commonly have the highest overall car insurance rates, too.
The younger the driver, the more you’ll pay for car insurance. Auto insurance rates are based on risk. A newer driver is considered riskier. Hence, the higher rates.
But some states have much higher auto insurance rates than others.
Here are the five most expensive states for teen drivers on average:
- Michigan: $6,635
- Louisiana: $6,349
- California: $5,820
- Montana: $5,706
- Oklahoma: $5,682
Hawaii once again had the cheapest car insurance rates for teens. The five cheapest states for teen drivers on average:
- Hawaii: $1,747
- North Carolina: $3,110
- New Hampshire: $3,338
- Maine: $3,425
- Virginia: $3,681
Here are the averages for each age group by state:
How can you improve teen driver safety?
Parents may think that they have little control over their teen’s driving unless they’re in the car. That’s not true. Beyond GDL laws, Jennifer Ryan, AAA director of state relations, credited parent involvement in helping reduce teen crashes.
“According to research, teens value the opinions of their parents most of all, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. That’s why sharing your knowledge about safe driving is so important. When you start talking to your teen about driving, you are beginning a potentially life-saving conversation. It’s really important to set and enforce rules, and model safe and responsible driving to avoid crashes,” Ryan said.
Two ways to influence your teen’s driving are to:
- Lead by example
- Teach your children about GDL laws
“NHTSA believes learning safe driving habits can also be derived from observation and parental involvement. A parent being involved in their teen driver’s education can have a lasting effect on their driving habits. Establishing rules and providing input into their driving behavior can better prepare them for situations they will encounter on their own. Surveys have shown that teens whose parents impose driving restrictions and set good examples typically engage in less risky driving and are involved in fewer crashes,” the NHTSA said.
Children watch their parents’ actions behind the wheel and may mimic them once they start driving. Two examples are seat belt usage and texting while driving.
Parents aren’t always making sure their teens drive safely, according to results of a 2021 Insure.com survey of parents of teen drivers. Seventeen percent of parents acknowledged not always enforcing GDL laws.
Another 9% said they’re unsure if they’re enforcing GDL laws because they don’t remember them. That means more than one-quarter of parents surveyed don’t always make sure their teen drivers follow state law.
Casey Dawson, a consultant at Superior Honda in Harvey, LA, said the intermediate license phase is one part of GDL regulations when young drivers may get carried away with their driving privileges since they don’t need a licensed driver in the car with them.
“Young drivers can forget to abide by other important regulations, such as curfew and no cell phone rules. Teen drivers should carefully review the intermediate license limits for their state and take this license phase seriously to the next phase of your license,” Dawson said.
“Before teaching teens to drive safely, have a confident knowledge of your state’s driving laws, as well as the car you’ll be using to drive with your teen. By being a reliable source of knowledge of the car and the law, you’ll help your young driver feel confident and prepared on the road and you will set them up for driving success on their own,” Dawson added.
Here are ways you can prepare your teen driver so he or she is practicing safe driving — even when you’re not there.
- Be a role model — Children are always watching. You might think your elementary school student doesn’t notice from the back seat, but she probably sees you peeking at your phone while driving. Or your child might notice your aggressive driving style. Make sure you’re practicing positive driving habits so your children don’t pick up bad habits. Talk to your children about road safety. “If you help them to not develop bad habits and practice road safety whenever they are driving, you should be good to go. Remember, a driver is only ever as good as who they learned from, so you need to be a shining example to them. Whilst it is about good habits, it’s also for road safety overall,” said Michael Lowe, owner of CarPassionate.com.
- Talk to your teens and assess their readiness for driving — Discuss personal responsibility with your teen. Talk about taking safety precautions, such as always buckling up, not riding with a teen driver without your advance permission and being a safe passenger with teen and adult drivers, Ryan said.
- Know your state’s GDL laws — Make sure you know what your child can’t do behind the wheel. GDL laws differ by state. Understand what’s restricted in your state. “A lot has changed since you earned your driver’s license. Graduated driver licensing, driver education, license restrictions and supervised practice driving are all part of today’s licensing process,” Ryan said.
- Go beyond your state’s GDL laws — Don’t just rely on your state to decide what’s safest for your child. Implement your own restrictions, such as not letting your young driver operate a vehicle late at night or with other teens in the car.
- Teach your children about distracted driving — Educate them about the dangers of distracted driving. You can even forbid your children from eating, texting, talking on the phone or changing the radio while driving. It’s your car. She’s your child. You have a say in what happens.
- Enforce consequences — If you find your child isn’t following your rules (or your state’s driving laws), teach your child about consequences. Maybe it’s taking the car away for a week or restricting their online access temporarily. Driving is a responsibility. Make sure your child understands the seriousness of this task.
Maria Wojtczakis, CEO at Driving MBA, suggested that parents have additional rules about passengers and newly-licensed teens.
“First, parents need to make sure their novice driver understands that this is the law and if they’re caught, they’ll be ticketed and could have their license revoked,” she said.
“While it can be a battle because the teens don’t think it is necessary or it isn’t going to happen to them, it happens to an average of 10 teens every day. Teenage car crashes remain the number one cause of teen deaths and injury every year. When you consider those consequences, having to reinforce rules like zero passengers while driving and restricted driving hours is nothing compared to having to deal with life-changing injuries or the loss of a child that could have been prevented,” Wojtczakis added.
Find out more about teen driving
Carinsurance.com has a wealth of information for teen drivers and their parents:
- Parents’ guide to insurance for teen drivers
- Car insurance for a 16-year-old
- Car insurance for a 17-year-old
- Car insurance for an 18-year-old
- Car insurance for a 19-year-old
- Best cars for teens
Each state was scored from 1 to 5 (1, poor, 2 fair, 3 good, 4 very good, 5 excellent) on each metric for overall ranking. Metrics were weighted as follows: Insurance cost – 15%; Fatal teen crashes – 30%; GDL laws – 20%; Teen drinking and driving – 15%; Teen texting and emailing – 10%; seat belt use – 10%. In cases where a state did not participate in federal surveys, the national average was used for those states.
- Car insurance rates: CarInsurance.com commissioned rates from Quadrant Information Services for up to six major carriers in nearly all ZIP codes of the country for coverage of 100/300/100 with a $500 deductible for ages 16, 17, 18 and 19.
- Fatal crashes: Teen driver fatalities from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics report “Total Fatalities and Fatalities in Crashes Involving Young Drivers, by State and Person Type, 2018” were divided by the number of licensed teen drivers from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. The fatal crash result by state was multiplied by 10,000 to get a rate per 10,000 teen drivers.
- GDL: Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, 18th Annual Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, January 2021.
- High school teens drinking and driving: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, High School Risk Behavior Survey, 2019.
- High school teens texting or emailing while driving: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, High School Risk Behavior Survey, 2019.
- High school seat belt use: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, High School Risk Behavior Survey, 2019.
- Where there were ties in ranking, we used results from the High School Risk Behavior Survey for a question about whether the teen had driven in a vehicle within the past 30 days with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, High School Risk Behavior Survey, 2019.