Car carnage takes a back seat to other teenage risks

5 September 2008

emergency services attend a crash

Ninety per cent of AA members underestimate the risk teenagers in cars face compared to higher-profile threats, such as drugs, drinking and gun and knife crime, research for the AA reveals. This is despite the fact that 80 per cent of accidental teenage deaths happen on the road1.

Only one in ten of 18,500 respondents to the AA/Populus survey of AA members see driving as the biggest source of danger for teenagers.

However, while older respondents say drugs and drinking are the main threats, gun and knife crime is seen as the greatest menace by the younger generations themselves, Londoners and lower-income respondents.

Throughout this year, weekends on which there were multiple stabbings have been matched almost victim for victim by car crashes elsewhere that have killed teenagers2.

The AA now fears that many of the tell-tale signs of an impending teenage road tragedy are being ignored because perilous driving is seen as less of a risk and doesn't grab the attention as much as a stabbing.

Drugs and drinking can also be more disruptive for family and friends than dangerous driving that can stay out of sight until it manifests itself as a crash with multiple fatalities.

Warning signs

This survey into the 'greatest risk to the safety of teenagers" emphasises the need for parents and friends to keep an eye out for potentially dangerous circumstances including:

  • a car over-loaded with passengers
  • someone driving beyond the limit of their experience - a more powerful car, longer distance, type of road or time of day that the driver isn't used to
  • a driver whose personality or reputation indicates a worse than comfortable risk, although many other teenagers feel under pressure to show off by taking risks when driving

Overall results

Overall, the survey found the greatest risks to the safety of teenagers were thought to be:

  • drugs 31%
  • drinking 25%
  • gun and knife crime 25%
  • driving 11%
  • smoking 4%
  • sex 1%
  • disease less than 1%, and
  • other 2%


Drugs were seen as the biggest threat in Northern Ireland (38%), Wales (37%), North West (35%), North East (35%), Yorkshire and Humberside (34%), Scotland (34%), East Midlands (33%), the South (31%), South West (31%), East Anglia (31%) and the West Midlands (30%).


In London, 32% of drivers saw gun and knife crime the main threat, while drugs were seen as the second biggest risk (27%).

AA comment

"It's easy to worry that teenagers may fall in with the drug or knife culture – they may or they may not. However, one thing is for certain: they will travel by car with friends of their own age, where just one moment's bravado, foolishness or just plain bad luck can kill." says Edmund King, the AA's president

"In 2006, 29 children aged 13-15 died in collisions in which they were likely to have been driven by people of their parents' age group. This compares with 286 teenagers aged 16-19 killed mostly while being driven by their mates.

"This is not a matter of trying to outdo other dangers in terms of significance and importance, every teenage death is a tragic waste. The biggest killer of UK youngsters approaching adulthood is car crashes and the tell-tale signs of a tragedy in the making can be more obvious than other risks and therefore preventable by parents and friends."


Populus interviewed 18,524 AA members online between 23rd May and 2nd June 2008.

115-19 year olds, from "Deaths: by age and gender, from all causes, all accidental deaths and all road deaths: 2005", Road Casualties Great Britain 2006, Department for Transport.

2Thursday 15 July, four men stabbed in London and one West Bromwich. The same day, five teenagers and a man in his 20s were killed in a crash in Leicestershire. Four days later a teenager and two occupants in their 20s were killed in one vehicle in Scotland.

Saturday 16 August
A 16 year old stabbed to death in Manchester and a 17 year old killed in Croydon.

Wednesday 20 August
A 16-year-old falls to his death from a block of flats in London.

In the same period, a 19-year-old woman driver died in Ross-shire, a 17 year old male was killed and another teenager injured in Derbyshire, and 19 a year old male car passenger was killed and three other teenagers injured in a car crash in West Lancashire.

Last weekend, a 14 year old was stabbed to death in London and a 15 year old killed in Liverpool. On Saturday, a 17-year-old passenger was killed in a car crash near Canterbury and an 18-year-old man was charged with dangerous driving after a woman pedestrian was killed on a level crossing in East Sussex.

Results by region

Top three safety fears for teenagers

London – gun/knife crime 32%, drugs 27%, drinking 25%
South – drugs 31%, drinking 27%, gun/knife crime 24%
South West – drugs 31%, drinking 26%, gun/knife crime 22%
Wales – drugs 37%, drinking 23%, gun/knife crime 22%
East Midlands – drugs 33%, drinking 25%, gun/knife crime 23%
East Anglia – drugs 31%, gun/knife crime 25%, drinking 24%
Yorks and Humberside – drugs 34%, drinking 23%, gun/knife crime 23%
North West – drugs 31%, drinking 26%, gun/knife crime 25%
North East – drugs 35%, gun/knife crime 25%, drinking 24%
West Midlands – drugs 30%, drinking 26%, gun/knife crime 26%
Scotland drugs – 34%, drinking 27%, gun/knife crime 21%
Northern Ireland – drugs 38%, drinking 25%, gun/knife crime 16%

Results by age group

Top three safety fears for teenagers

18-24 –gun/knife crime 37%, drugs 26%, drinking 19%
25-34 –gun/knife crime 29%, drinking 27%, drugs 24%
35-44 –drugs 30%, gun/knife crime 27%, drinking 24%
45-54 –drugs 33%, drinking 26%, gun/knife crime 22%
55-64 –drugs 37%, drinking 26%, gun/knife crime 20%
65+ –drugs 40%, drinking 26%, gun/knife crime 21%

Results by sex

Top three safety fears for teenagers

Male –drugs 33%, drinking 24%, gun/knife crime 24%
Female –drugs 29%, drinking 27%, gun/knife crime 26%

Results by social segment

Top three safety fears for teenagers

AB –drugs 30%, drinking 27%, gun/knife crime 23%
C1 –drugs 31%, drinking 25%, gun/knife crime 25%
C2 –drugs 34%, gun/knife crime 30%, drinking 21%
DE –drugs 35%, drinking 23%, gun/knife crime 28%

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