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Accident Statistics for young drivers in Germany

May 2022

Accidents

Fatalities and serious injuries in 2019
Figure 11

Like in many other countries, young drivers aged 18 to 24 are also among the groups most at risk in road traffic in Germany. This is underscored by – among other things – the following figures from the German Federal Statistical Office: while young drivers made up just 7.6 percent of the population at the end of 2018, they accounted for 15.5 percent of all people injured in road traffic in 2019 and just under twelve percent of all people killed. 18 to 24-year olds made up around 15 percent of people involved in an accident, and roughly 13 percent of all people involved in accidents resulting in personal injuries.

Not by chance, young drivers also frequently bear the main responsibility for causing an accident: 65 percent of young drivers involved in accidents in 2019 were classified as the main person responsible for accidents resulting in personal injury. Among men aged 18 to 24, 68 percent were classified as bearing the main responsibility, and among women it was just under 61 percent. The most common behavior-based factors that cause an accident are not changing speed (in 15.7 percent of cases) and not maintaining a sufficient minimum distance (in 15 percent of cases). Another fact that fits this picture is that, according to an analysis of new registration figures published by the German Federal Motor Transport Authority, young registered owners up to the age of 29 have a conspicuously strong preference for vehicles with a powerful engine. In terms of accident statistics, there are also telling figures in the annual reports 2016 through 2020, issued by the German Federal Statistical Office, in relation to cars involved in accidents (not including main responsibility): in nearly 12.5 percent of cases, the driver was between the ages of 18 and 24. Across all driver age groups, the vehicle involved in the accident was twelve years old or more in 30 percent ofcases – five percent of which belonged to young drivers of the aforementioned age group.

Killed and Seriously Injured Young People in 2019, by Mode of Road Use
Figure 12

YOUNG MEN IN ROAD TRAFFIC MORE AT RISK THAN WOMAN

Accident statistics for Germany also show that young men aged 15 to 24 lose their lives in three out of four cases when involved in a traffic accident on inter-urban roads. In 2019 for example, this was 317 out of 429. Although the absolute numbers declined slightly in 2020, there was no fundamental change to the ratio just mentioned. Regardless of location, the most frequent way in which young people die in road traffic is as a car occupant, including in Germany – in both 2019 and 2020 it was almost 60 percent. In this age group, the rate of people killed as car passengers is also very high. The only other segment where the rate is similarly high is female senior citizens. Approximately every fourth young person who dies in road traffic is a motorbike occupant (Figures 11 through 13).

Fatalities per 100,000 Inhabitants in 2019 by Age Group and Mode of Road Use
Figure 13

Across all age groups, especially young drivers, significantly more men are killed in traffic accidents than women – similar to findings for the EU as a whole (Figure 13). This can partially be attributed to men being more frequent road users, especially as car and motorcycle drivers. The main reason, however, is that men are more likely to take risks and have a considerably less defensive driving style than women. In 2019 in Germany, 11.4 young men aged 18 to 20 per 100,000 lost their lives. For women of the same age group, the rate was 3.1.

Following the car driver category, the second most common mode of road use where men are killed in an accident is as an occupant on a motorbike with a license number. This applies to age groups up to pension age. Fatal accidents on bicycles do not play much of a role among 18 to 24-year-olds, but for men they gradually increase in subsequent age groups. In the 75+ age group, most men killed in traffic accidents lose their lives riding a bicycle. For women, the rate only starts increasing from the age of 50, but never reaches the same level as for men. However, women start to become more and more at risk as pedestrians from the age of 65.

In terms of young people who are seriously injured in accidents, their most frequent mode of road use is also car occupant, followed again by motorcycle occupant. Once more, this applies to more men than women. However, the discrepancy is considerably lower and there is no large increase in the 75+ age group. 18 to 20-year-olds are the most frequently represented age group, with every 216 in 100,000 men of this age group being seriously injured in an accident. This is also the age group most frequently represented among women; the rate is 143 in every 100,000 women of the same age. In the 21 to 24 age group, the respective rates are considerably below this – at 145 (men) and 93 (women) for every 100,000 male/female inhabitants. Among women, the 35 to 39 age group has the lowest rate (47). Among men, the first time the rate is low is for the 40 to 44-year-olds (92), and in the 65 to 74 age group the rate is even lower. Among women, the rate of seriously injured car drivers falls consistently from over 50 percent for young novice drivers to roughly 20 percent for senior citizens aged 75+. In contrast, the rate of seriously injured female passengers remains relatively constant across almost all age groups, ranging from 11 to 22 percent. Among men, the rate of seriously injured car drivers falls from 46 percent for young novice drivers to 23 percent in the 50 to 54 age group, but then increases again constantly to 39 percent for the over 75s. The rate of seriously injured male motorcyclists is approximately 20 percent across the age groups from young novice drivers through to 69-year-olds. For women, the rate fluctuates between four and eight percent, and from 60 years of age, it becomes completely insignificant. Among men, the bicycle as a mode of road use becomes more significant with each increasing age group – even more clear-cut than among women. The rate increases steadily from 10 percent for young people to over 35 percent for senior citizens. Unlike for women, although the rate of pedestrians also increases, it only plays a minor role.

AN ANTICIPATORY DRIVING STYLE PAYS OFF IN ANY TRAFFIC SITUATION

DANGEROUS SITUATIONS ON THE ROAD ARE OFTEN NOT NOTICED UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE

Among women, the rate of seriously injured car drivers falls consistently from over 50 percent for young novice drivers to roughly 20 percent for senior citizens aged 75+. In contrast, the rate of seriously injured female passengers remains relatively constant across almost all age groups, ranging from 11 to 22 percent. Among men, the rate of seriously injured car drivers falls from 46 percent for young novice drivers to 23 percent in the 50 to 54 age group, but then increases again constantly to 39 percent for the over 75s. The rate of seriously injured male motorcyclists is approximately 20 percent across the age groups from young novice drivers through to 69-year-olds. For women, the rate fluctuates between four and eight percent, and from 60 years of age, it becomes completely insignificant. Among men, the bicycle as a mode of road use becomes more significant with each increasing age group – even more clear-cut than among women. The rate increases steadily from 10 percent for young people to over 35 percent for senior citizens. Unlike for women, although the rate of pedestrians also increases, it only plays a minor role.

INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL AND DRUGS

Alcohol and drugs are also significant in the accident statistics of young novice drivers in Germany. For 2019, official German accident statistics show that 25 in every 1,000 car drivers aged 18 to 20 involved in accidents had been under the influence of alcohol. In the 21 to 24 age group, the rate was 30 in 1,000, which represents the highest rate across all age groups with a driver’s license, although in the next age group up – 25 to under 35s – it was almost identical at 29 percent. With continued increasing age, the rate falls considerably. Across all age groups the rate is 20 in 1,000. A fundamentally different picture emerges for riders of motorbikes with an insurance plate. In the 15 to 17 age group, 17 out of 1,000 people were under the influence of alcohol. In the 18 to 20 age group, the rate increased to 45, and in the 21 to under 25s age group, it was 52. It is evident that alcohol is an issue that must be taken seriously in the context of young novice drivers, and it must be an important focus area in prevention efforts. However, it is also clear that the main issue is from the age of 21 to around 40. One reason for this is the zero BAC limit for young people under 21 and for novice drivers during their probationary period, which was introduced in Germany in 2005.

car accident
Following a traffic accident, many accident victims complain of whiplash

YOUNG DRIVERS AND SENIOR CITIZENS IN COMPARISON

Some interesting results emerge when comparing the accident statistics of young drivers between 18 and 25 with those of another particularly at-risk group in road traffic: senior citizens from 65 years old. For this purpose, DEKRA Accident Research analyzed several years of data from the German In-Depth Accident Study database (GIDAS), a collaborative project of the German Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) and the Research Association of Automotive Technology (FAT). A total of 16,845 accidents, involving 23,440 car drivers, were analyzed. Of these, 4,272 drivers were aged 18 to 25, and 2,839 drivers were at least 65 years old.

In terms of location, it was found that in builtup areas more senior citizens have more accidents percentage-wise than young drivers, and on inter-urban roads it is the opposite. In built-up areas, most accidents involving young drivers happen on weekdays during the morning and evening rushhours; senior citizens mostly meet with accidents in the late morning and early afternoon. Whereas almost no senior citizens have accidents on inter-urban roads late at night or in the early hours of the morning, it is precisely at these times, especially on Friday evenings/Saturday and Sunday mornings, when young drivers have an accident – a clear indication of accidents happening after attending a party or going to a club.

The most common type of accident among young drivers in built-up areas was colliding with a turning or crossing vehicle, or a vehicle in front or waiting vehicle. The most common form of accidents on inter-urban roads was due to veering off the road to the right or the left. Among senior citizens, the most common form of accident in built-up areas was also colliding with a turning or crossing vehicle, or with a vehicle in front or waiting vehicle. These two types of accidents also occurred most frequently among senior citizens on inter-urban roads. Collisions with an oncoming vehicle also occurred frequently there.

UNDERDEVELOPED HAZARD PERCEPTION

British psychologist David Crundall believes that, in addition to risk factors such as impulsiveness, distraction, and the effects of alcohol and drugs, a lack of hazard perception is another reason why novice drivers in particular are frequently involved in accidents, i.e., there are shortcomings in their ability to recognize dangerous situations on the road in time in order to react appropriately and to prevent an accident. Hazard perception is a multi-layered set of behaviors that only starts to develop with increased driving experience. It starts with the identification of a potential hazard, for example, an oncoming vehicle that wants to turn into a side road and therefore has to cross over the lane, or a vehicle concealing a pedestrian due to its structure or size. If the respective situation seems unlikely to turn into an actual hazard, the driver should ideally continue scanning their surroundings, and over time they develop a priority hierarchy. This mental ranking list is in constant flux, as new elements get added, old elements get removed, and the current elements are reorganized based on the situation dynamics. If a driver fails to identify a potential hazard before there is any real danger, it may already be too late to react appropriately, potentially with fatal consequences.

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