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Phased Licensing Programs Cut Teen Auto Deaths Phased Licensing Programs Cut Teen Auto Deaths

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Health Care / HEALTH

Phased Licensing Programs Cut Teen Auto Deaths

photo of Maggie Fox
November 4, 2011

New programs that phase in driving privileges over several years have cut the rate of fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-olds by 8 to 14 percent, National Institutes of Health-funded researchers reported on Friday.

These graduated licensing laws, adopted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1996 and 2011, limit driving at night and with other youths. Some don’t grant full, independent driving privileges until age 18.

These laws work, three studies found. "These studies not only confirm the effectiveness of the graduated licensing approach, they also identify additional protective factors," said Rebecca Clark of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which paid for the studies.

 

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009, about 3,000 15–to-19-year-olds were killed in motor vehicle crashes and  more than 350,000 were treated in emergency departments. Drivers aged 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash for every mile driven.

The graduated licensing programs are meant to prevent this.

James Fell and colleagues at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation  in Maryland examined data on fatal crashes from 1990 to 2007 affecting 16- and 17-year-olds and compared them to rates for 21- to 25-year-olds.

Teen fatalities fell the most in states whose laws included at least five of seven key elements: a minimum age of 16 for a learner's permit; a waiting period of at least six months before a driver with a learner's permit could apply for a provisional license; a requirement for 50 to 100 hours of supervised driving; a minimum age of 17 for a provisional license; restrictions on driving at night; limits on other teenage passengers; and a minimum age of 18 for a full license.

"These findings on nighttime and passenger restrictions might be useful to states wishing to make their graduated licensing programs more effective,” Fell said in a statement.

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