Graduated Driver Licensing Laws Reduce Teen Car Deaths
Graduated Driver Licensing laws, initiated in 1996, have successfully reduced fatal crashes among teens, but more could be done, according to new estimates by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
There are at least 10 states that could sharply lower their rate of fatal crashes among teen drivers if they adopted the five strongest provisions of graduated licensing. The map below shows how much each state could reduce the fatal crash rate for teens if it adopted the strongest policies in five GDL components. The states that would improve the most are shown in red.
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs introduce driving privileges to teens little by little as they develop better driving skills and become more mature. There is no national system, so laws vary from state to state but have three stages:
-- A supervised learner's period;
-- An intermediate license which comes after passing a road test and limits driving in high-risk situations except with supervision;
-- A license with full privileges.
There are five principal components of these laws:
-- The age at which teens can obtain a permit;
-- The number of practice driving hours required;
-- The age at which teens can test for and receive a license;
-- Restrictions on night driving;
-- Limits on the number of teenage passengers.
Earlier research done by the Insurance Institute and its affiliate, the Highway Loss Data Institute, has shown that states with the strongest laws have the largest reductions in fatal crashes among 15- to 17-year-old drivers and the biggest reductions in collisions reported to insurers among 16- to 17-year-olds compared with states that have weak laws.
The Insurance Institute has identified current "best practices" and the states with those five toughest requirements:
-- First is a minimum intermediate licensing age of 17 in New Jersey.
-- Second is a minimum permit age of 16 in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
-- Third is at least 70 supervised practice driving hours, which is required in Maine.
-- Fourth is a night driving restriction starting at 8 p.m. or earlier during the intermediate stage, which is at sunset in Idaho and 6 p.m. during Eastern Standard Time in South Carolina.
--Fifth is a ban on all teenage passengers which exists in the District of Columbia and 15 states including California, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Washington.
In 2012, the Insurance Institute developed an online calculator that could be used by states to show how much they could lower teenage fatality rates and collision claims if they adopted some or all of the strictest graduated licensing laws.
According to that calculator, 10 states could see the biggest reductions in fatal crash rates among teen drivers if they adopted all of the strongest provisions. South Dakota tops the list just as it did three years ago. It could see a 63 percent drop in fatal crashes if it enacted all of the strongest provisions. Iowa could see a 55 percent reduction, if it did the same, and North Dakota could see a 56 percent reduction. If their laws were similarly strengthened, Montana could see a drop of 53 percent, Arkansas of 50 percent, Idaho of 49 percent, Mississippi of 48 percent, New Mexico of 47 percent, Kansas of 46 percent, and South Carolina of 45 percent.
The Insurance Institute notes that the pace of strengthening graduated licensing requirements has slowed since 2010 and one reason may be that lawmakers have focused on distracted driving laws because of the widespread teen use of cellphones.
Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new (2013) statistics, which show that 10 percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash and noted that this age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crash. Clearly more needs to be done on several fronts to protect inexperienced teen drivers.
By Cheryl Jensen, for Motor Matters. Cheryl began writing about the auto industry in 1996. Her reports have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Better Homes and Gardens magazine. She has covered rallies in South America, Australia, the 1992 Paris-Moscow-Beijing Raid, and in 1996 was the first American woman to finish the Dakar Rally. She has a bachelor's degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Cheryl resides in New Hampshire.