Men Most at Risk

12 May 2022

Male, driving a car or motorbike, driving too fast, and potentially under the influence of alcohol: these four factors dominate in the road traffic accident statistics of young people in many countries. Although the number of road users aged 15 to 24 killed or seriously injured in accidents has reduced – in part significantly – over the last ten years, the figures are, for the most part, still considerably above the average for the other age groups, when based on one million inhabitants.

Hardly a day goes by without seeing headlines like “18-year-old crashes into tree,” “Drunk 23-year-old veers off road,” “Young woman loses control of vehicle” in the media – across the entire globe. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington in Seattle, around 175,000 people aged 15 to 24 around the world died in road traffic in 2019 (the year for which there are currently the latest figures from the IHME) (Figures 2 and 3). More than 95,000 of these occurred in Asia, around 40,000 in Africa, more than 25,000 in America, and around 10,000 in Europe. Globally, around 105,000 of the fatalities were 20 to 24-year-olds, and around 70,000 15 to 19-year-olds.
A huge 80 percent of traffic fatalities in both age groups were men – and just 20 percent women. Worldwide, the overall 15 to 24 age group accounted for around 15 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2019. There is an especially high risk of having an accident as a car occupant or motorbike occupant. In these two road user groups, a total of 123,000 people aged 15 to 24 were killed globally in 2019, according to the IHME. That accounts for 70 percent of all traffic fatalities in this age range.
The quoted figures may not be completely reliable on such a detailed scale, as some of them are merely estimates, as stated in the IHME’s GBD Compare online tool. Nevertheless, they show a trend that can be confirmed by examining the statistics and surveys published by other institutions: young people are at great risk in road traffic – especially as novice drivers.


When taking an initial look at the general, age-independent trends, analyses from the International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD) of the International Transport Forum – consisting of various national official accident statistics – show that the number of traffic fatalities has dropped between 2010 and 2019 in most of IRTAD member states listed here. In Switzerland and South Korea, the figures fell very considerably – at 43 percent and 39 percent respectively. But in the USA the reverse was true: the number of traffic fatalities rose from just under 33,000 in 2010 to almost 36,100 in 2019 – an increase of nearly 9.5 percent. And that’s not all: while the number of traffic fatalities fell further in almost all IRTAD member states during the start of coronavirus in 2020, in the USA it increased by another 7.2 percent to 38,680.
In terms of the 15 to 24 age group, the number of traffic fatalities fell in all IRTAD member states (except for Chile) between 2010 and 2019 – in some countries by more than 60 percent. Furthermore, the reduction in traffic fatalities for this age group is usually significantly greater than the reduction in total traffic fatalities. This also applies with regard to figures per 100,000 inhabitants for the 15 to 24 age group. This suggests that the target- group-focused measures introduced in many countries to protect this age group – who are more at risk on average – were effective. Leading the way in this respect are the countries that, in general, have implemented a successful road safety policy and have been able to reduce traffic fatality numbers in all age groups (Figures 4 and 5).
However, young road users continue to represent a particularly at-risk group in most of the countries analyzed, with the exception of Japan and Korea, where it is senior citizens who are most at risk in road traffic. At the bottom of the rankings is France, although it is worth noting that it has achieved some notable success since 2010.
To a greater or lesser extent, the risk factors in most countries include speeding, limited experience, overestimating one’s own abilities, underestimating hazards on the roads, alcohol consumption, and driving without a seatbelt. For example, figures from 2019 for the USA show that 45 percent of all drivers aged 15 to 20 who were killed in an accident had not been wearing a seat belt, and 24 percent had consumed alcohol. In 2019 in Canada, a staggering 54 percent of victims from the age group of young drivers between 15 and 24 had not been wearing a seat belt.


When looking at the number of road users killed per 100,000 inhabitants for the individual age groups compared to the average for all age groups, we can see that 15 to 17-year-olds are below the population average in all countries analyzed. In the 18 to 20 age group, the picture is the reverse. South Korea is the only country in which the fatality rates are significantly below the total average; in all of the other countries analyzed, it is above average – in some quite considerably. Poland had the highest rate with 7. This means that the total rate as an average across all age groups, which at 7.7 is already high in Poland, is almost doubled for the 18 to 20 age group.
Most of the countries analyzed also have an elevated rate among the 21 to 24-year-olds. The countries with the greatest deviations at the top end of the scale are the USA, France, Poland, and Portugal. It is notable that, in Portugal, the previous age group is only 0.1 over the average, which is fairly positive. The countries below average for 21 to 24-year-olds are South Korea, Japan, and Switzerland.
Analyzing the data in this manner provides a country-by-country picture of the age groups that are at particular risk. Analyzing the different influencing factors in detail makes it possible to compare countries with one another, and thus to identify specific problem areas as well as develop approaches for targeted improvements (Figure 6).
The picture is inconsistent when it comes to the modes of road use that are most risky for young people. For example, in 2019 in Poland, young road users accounted for just under 15 percent of traffic fatalities, with car occupants making up 22.5 percent of these and cyclists just 3.1 percent. However, in Australia, although the rate of car occupants killed was similar at 20.7, for cyclists it was a staggering 20.5 percent – the highest value out of all the countries analyzed.
Generally speaking, 15 to 24-year-olds are most at risk when they are car occupants or occupants on motorized two-wheeled vehicles. For example, in 2019 in France, more than 22 percent of road users killed were car occupants, and over 23 percent were occupants on motorized two-wheeled vehicles. In Chile, motorbike occupants even made up almost 25 percent of all traffic fatalities aged 15 to 24. The aspects explored in The Human Factor section, such as increased risk taking and inexperience combined with overconfidence, play a key role here. As pedestrians and cyclists, the risk to this age group is below average – apart from a few exceptions. One of the reasons for this is that younger people are less vulnerable, especially in comparison with senior citizens. However, it is expected that this area will become an increasingly important focus area in future given the changing attitudes to mobility in many countries as well as emerging forms of mobility, especially in terms of personal light electric vehicles (Figure 7).



We can see the generally positive trend once again if we consider just the EU member states. As outlined by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) in its annual PIN Report, the trend over recent years underscores that there have been huge successes in places where “classic” problem areas, such as speeding or driving under the influence of alcohol, have been addressed and measures taken or campaigns (e.g., concerning putting on a seat belt or how to strap children in correctly) set up to tackle these problems. The introduction of tougher rules, e.g., limiting the speed on inter-urban roads in France to 80 km/h, or to 50 km/h on urban roads in Poland (previously 60 km/h) even at night, combined with stricter controls, higher fines, and better education have had positive effects on these purely behavior-based problem areas.
It is notable that these problem areas are the very areas in which y EU-25 average: EU-27 without Lithuania and Malta, as there is not sufficient data. oung novice drivers tend to rank worse compared with the other road user groups. Accordingly, there was also a considerable drop in the number of young people killed on the roads in EU member states. In its PIN Flash Report 41 from October 2021, the ETSC conducted a thorough examination of the age group 15 to 30.
It found that, for the EU-27, the 15 to 30 age group saw an average of 67 traffic fatalities per one million inhabitants, which is still high above the average rate of 49 for the other age groups. However, in 2010, this ratio was even higher at 103 to 61. In Estonia, Romania, and Hungary, the traffic fatality rate among young people is slightly below that for the rest of the population. It seems clear that the ratio is linked not only to the level of traffic safety, but also to factors such as population composition, the ratio of urban to rural population, and the primary modes of road use. Overall, however, the difference is narrowing due to increased safety on the roads (Figure 8).
The number of people seriously injured in traffic accidents between 2010 and 2019 also fell, which is another positive result. While in most of the countries analyzed only very few changes were achieved for the rest of the population, among young people there were improvements – in some areas quite considerable ones. Overall, the average annual change for the 15 to 30 age group across 21 EU countries with sufficient data was a 2.5 percent decline, while for the rest of the population it was a 0.2 increase (Figure 9).
The huge significance of road user behavior, i.e., the human factor, compared with the influencing factors of technology and infrastructure, becomes clear when analyzing the numbers of traffic fatalities by gender. Across the EU as a whole, based on the respective share of the population, more than four times as many young men aged 15 to 30 die in traffic accidents compared to women of the same age. Even if men have a higher road use rate (also behavior related), this is far off the factor of 4. Therefore, to improve road safety for young people, it is essential to concentrate on young men.
It is notable that these problem areas are the very areas in which young novice drivers tend to rank worse compared with the other road user groups. Accordingly, there was also a considerable drop in the number of young people killed on the roads in EU member states. In its PIN Flash Report 41 from October 2021, the ETSC conducted a thorough examination of the age group 15 to 30.



An analysis of the US figures from 2019 shows that, like in most other countries, cars – including vans, pick-ups, and SUVs – are a dominating factor in fatal road accidents. The considerably higher ratio of men killed compared to women also applies to the USA, but is less pronounced than in Germany, for example. Overall, the number of people killed in traffic accidents per 100,000 inhabitants for each individual age group is at least twice as high as in Germany; the discrepancy is even greater when it comes to women. However, this rate is influenced by a number of factors. As well as differences in infrastructure, vehicle population and condition, driver training, safety-relevant traffic rules, inspection and penalty enforcement, and attitudes to traffic, mileage also plays an important role. In the USA, more than 25 in every 100,000 young men aged 21 to 24 are killed in traffic accidents, which is the highest rate out of all ages groups (Figure 10). For comparison,
in Germany the highest rate for men is in the 18 to 20 age group at around 11.
Accidents caused by the influence of alcohol play a key role in this regard. In the Traffic Safety Facts on fatal accidents from 2018, published by the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it was stated that 27 percent of the drivers involved aged 21 to 24 had been under the influence of alcohol (at least 0.08 BAC). However, this extremely high rate should not only be viewed in relation to the number of drivers killed in this age group, as the fatally injured victim can also be a passenger or another road user. Nevertheless, it is a clear indication that there is a significant problem in this area. For 16 to 20-year-olds, the rate is 15 percent, and for 25 to 34-year-olds it is 25 percent – a quarter of all fatal accidents.