Study: Car Crashes Are The Number-One Cause of Teen Deaths

BlogHer Original Post

The death of a teenager is relatively rare, so when one happens, we almost always hear about it in the news. Just recently, for example, the news broke about the University of Virginia lacrosse player who was apparently killed by her boyfriend just weeks before her graduation; and the Houston teen, just found dead in Mexico, who was allegedly leading a secret life as a stripper and "coyote," helping undocumented groups cross the border. Most of us receive this kind of news with shock and sadness. For parents of teens and young adults, add to our reaction a mixture of fear, horror and panic.

We are hungry for the facts because we are desperate to separate our family's and our kid's situations from the unfortunate victim's. We might take comfort in the fact that teen deaths make up only 1 percent of the total deaths in this nation, according to a study released this week by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). But really, any teen death is an unfortunate tragedy, especially since most of them are preventable, according to Arialdi M. Minino, the author of the NCHS study.

The study results also show that the majority (48 percent) of deaths of children aged 12 to 19 are caused by automobile accidents. This is significantly higher than the death toll from car crashes in the general population -- which is only 33 percent.

Minino said that teen deaths garner little attention as a public health concern because the numbers are so low. But, he said, a little effort expended toward saving young lives could be quite effective. He called for "extending common sense ideas" to help kids avoid danger. (See

The study cites homicide (13 percent), suicide (11 percent), cancer (6 percent) and heart disease (3 percent) as other leading causes of teenage deaths. And it reports some significant gender and racial differences among teens. The news is particularly dismal for Black males. According to the study:

  • Non-Hispanic Black males have the highest death rate of all, at 94.1 per 100,000, compared to 49.5 per 100,000 for all teens.
  • Non-Hispanic Black teens are 37 percent more likely to die than Hispanic and non-Hispanic white teenagers.
  • The death rate for non-Hispanic Black males is almost twice that of Hispanic males and 15 times that of White males.
  • Homicide is the leading cause of death for non-Hispanic Black male teenagers.
  • The homicide rate is 6 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic females, 1 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic White females, and 2 per 100,000 for Hispanics females.
  • Male teens are more likely to die than females at every single year between 12 and 19, At age 12, for instance, the death rate for males is almost twice the rate of females. At age 19, the death rate for males is closer to three times the rate of females.
  • Older teens are at higher risk of dying than younger ones. Starting at age 12 and ending at 19, the average death rate among teenage males increases 32 percent for every additional year of age. For females, the death rate increases 19.5 percent for every additional year of age.

    Though the overall number of teen deaths is low, that 1 percent translates to an estimated 16,375 children aged 12 to 19 years. That's too many valuable lives lost, says Dr. Karen Sheehan, medical director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Children's Memorial Hospital and medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids in Chicago. She told Business Week's Steven Reinberg:

    Every one of these 16,000 adolescents who died will never get married ... or contribute positively to society ... We should be appalled that this many deaths happen to children this age, and we should be ashamed that these deaths occur disproportionately in certain populations.

    Related Reading:

    The full NCHS report can be viewed on the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics site.

    The CDC's tips for reducing teen driver crash risk.

    Harvard's Public Health study addressing the four preventable risk factors affecting life expectancy .

    Contributing Editor Gina Carroll also blogs at Think Act: Proactive Black Parenting andTortured By Teenagers