Injuries are the primary cause of death for adolescents. While 71% of all deaths among adolescents are caused by injury, the proportion of injury-related deaths almost doubles from early adolescence to late adolescence: deaths due to injury make up 42% of all deaths of 10 year olds in the US, whereas deaths caused by injury comprise 80% of all deaths of 18 year old people in the US (1).
Unintentional injuries account for the greatest proportion of deaths among 10 to 24 year olds. The majority of these deaths are motor vehicle related, with a rate of 18.93 per 100,000 teens in California (2), and the remainder caused by a variety of factors including sports injuries, firearms and explosives, falls, bicycle crashes, poisonings, and being struck by an object. Intentional injury follows closely behind unintentional injury as a leading cause of death among teens. Although California compares favorably to the rest of the nation in terms of motor vehicle deaths, our homicide rate is far above the national average. Nationally, however, violence victimization rates in this age group have decreased between 1995 and 2009, from about 125/1,000 to 30.3/1,000 (3). Suicide, another form of intentional injury and the third leading cause of death among adolescents, is covered in the section on behavioral health.
Motor Vehicle Crashes
The motor vehicle crash death rate among adolescents and young adults is higher than at any other time of life, particularly for males. Speed, high-risk and drunk driving, sleep deprivation and inexperience all contribute to teen motor vehicle crashes. Trends in motor vehicle deaths have been positive, with rates falling consistently in California and the U.S. over the last decade. California’s motor vehicle death rate is significantly lower than that of the nation as a whole. However, disparities in motor vehicle related deaths are different in California than in the rest of the nation. Nationally, White adolescents have the highest rate of motor vehicle related deaths, whereas in California Latino youth have higher rates of deaths due to motor vehicle crashes (4).
Alcohol plays an important role in motor vehicle deaths. In 2005, almost one fifth of teen drivers ages 16 to 20 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had been drinking alcohol (5). In addition, sleep deprivation is significantly related to an increased risk for motor vehicle crashes, resulting in injuries and deaths. In a recent large study, 45% of adolescents reported that they were sleep deprived (6). Consistently, motor vehicle accidents with adolescent drivers happen at night at more than double the rate of overall night driving among adolescents (7). Neurologists have found that sleep deprivation impairs driving ability in many ways similar to alcohol, including by increasing aggressive tendencies. In addition, there exists a synergistic effect between alcohol impairment and sleep deprivation impairment whereby the combination of even low doses of alcohol and sleep deprivation results in multiplicative driving ability impairment effects rather than just additive effects (8).
In 2007, homicide rates for California youth between the ages of 10 and 14 were 1.08/100,000 compared to 1.0/100,00 nationwide, and 14.2 for youth in California between the ages of 15 and 19, compared to 10.3/100,000 nationwide (9). Although in California adolescent homicide death rates dropped between 1999 and 2007 for younger adolescents and all adolescent females, they have increased for older adolescent males. Homicide deaths among males increase as teens age and then drop sharply in early adulthood. At all ages, and among all ethnic groups, homicide rates are much higher among males than females. African American and Latino males are much more likely to be homicide victims than are males of other ethnicities. An increase in homicide mortality rates by 34.64/100,000 for older African American adolescent males in California accounts almost entirely for the higher rate of adolescent homicide deaths in this state. This increase among this group has not been reflected nationwide (10).
Data and research are essential tools for raising awareness of adolescent health issues, to plan programs and service delivery, and to formulate policy at the state and local levels. CAHC is committed to maintaining a website that serves as a gateway to a wide array of resources, and regularly updating our site to include the most up-to-date research. Direct links are provided when possible, and abstracts are provided for journal articles.
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(1) MacKay AP, Duran C. Adolescent Health in the United States, 2007. National Center for Health Statistics. 2007.
(2) WISQARS Fatal Causes of Deaths (using data collected by National Vital Statistics System), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. 2010.
(3) US Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Crime Victimization Survey, 1995 and 2009.
(4) National Adolescent Health Information Center, 2011. Data Profiles: State Summary: California: Motor Vehicle Crashes Mortality. University of California, San Francisco.
(5) MacKay AP, Duran C. Adolescent Health in the United States, 2007. National Center for Health Statistics. 2007.
(6) Dahl, R. Biological, Developmental, and Neurobehavioral Factors Relevant to Adolescent Driving Risks, 2008. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
(9) National Adolescent Health Information Center, 2011. Data Profiles: State Summary: California: Homicide Mortality. University of California, San Francisco.