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Crash Fatalities Higher for Teens Older Than 16

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A recent study shows that driving restrictions for teens, which vary in strictness state by state, are having some unintended safety consequences. The study — by researchers at the University of North Carolina and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — shows that in states with tougher licensing laws, there has been a decrease in fatal accidents for 16-year-olds, but fatal crashes among 18-year-old drivers have increased.

Allison Aubrey, reporting for NPR, gives one likely reason for this discrepancy:

Some kids are waiting until they’re 18-years-old to get their driver’s licenses. At this point, they’re considered adults, and they don’t have to jump through the hoops required of younger teens. They can opt out of driver’s ed. And they are not subject to nighttime driving restrictions or passenger restrictions.

‘[Older teens] are saying, ‘The heck with your more complicated process,’ says Justin McNaull, director of state relations for the American Automobile Association. At 18, teenagers can, in many cases, get their license in a matter of weeks.

[…] ‘There’s a belief that graduated licensing has led to a delay,’ says Anne McCart, a senior vice president at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Graduated driver’s license programs require younger drivers to put up with certain restrictions before being allowed a full license. The rules vary by state, but in general provide a minimum age for being allowed a driver’s permit or license, and require a specific number of supervised hours at the wheel.

Some programs also prohibit driving with other teens, ban driving at night, or require at least six months of instruction before taking a driver’s test. These laws started being adopted about two decades ago and are credited with a 30% drop in highway fatalities among teens in general.

Anahad O’Connor, writing in The New York Times Well blog, quotes Scott Masten, a researcher with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles and the lead author of the current study:

To get a broader perspective, Dr. Masten and his colleagues looked at data on fatal crashes involving 16- to 19-year-olds that occurred over a 21-year period, beginning in 1986. ‘When you look at the bigger picture across 18- and 19-year-olds, it looks like we’re offsetting those saved crashes,’ he said. ‘In fact, 75 percent of the fatal crashes we thought we were saving actually just occurred two years later. It’s shocking.’

A comment below a Los Angeles Times article about this topic, posted by someone named “Jane202,” offers a possible solution to the problem:

Some teens will delay getting a license because of the restrictions, or can’t afford the extra cost of a driver training program. I would like to see a study of the crash rates of teenagers licensed under restrictions when they are 25 or 35. If they are better drivers than people who drove unrestricted, then maybe the licensing should include a restricted period for any new driver, regardless of age. It would be problematic to enforce, since there aren’t many 48 year old novices, but it might save lives. Every parent I have spoken to is happy that their children are restricted. They don’t have to be the bad guy — it’s the law.

Image by cjc4454, used under its Creative Commons license.


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