Many teens look forward to the freedom and responsibility that having a learner's permit or driver's license brings — and many parents welcome the relief from chauffeur duty. But because of their lack of experience and age, young drivers have an especially high risk of being involved in car crashes.
To reduce the risk of motor vehicle accidents among beginning drivers, many states have implemented graduated driver licensing programs, which increase privileges as a driver gains more on-the-road experience. According to a study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, the most comprehensive graduated driver licensing programs offer teens the most protection from fatal crashes.
Using government data, researchers identified 16-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes between 1994 and 2004 and examined state driver licensing programs in place at the time. The researchers also looked at the scope of each state's driver licensing program and whether they had certain features, such as:
- a minimum age for a learner's permit
- a mandatory waiting period before applying for a driver's license
- minimum hours of supervised driving
- a minimum age for having an intermediate license (in which unsupervised driving is limited to less- hazardous situations)
- restrictions on nighttime driving
- restrictions on carrying passengers
- a minimum age for having a full, unrestricted driver's license
During the 11-year period covered by the study, 8,953 16-year-old drivers were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes. Overall, states that had graduated driver licensing programs in place saw an 11% reduction in fatal crashes that involved 16-year-old drivers.
States that required a 3-month or longer waiting period to get a driver's license, restricted nighttime driving, and required at least 30 hours of supervised driving with an adult or restricted passengers had 16% to 21% fewer fatal accidents involving 16-year-old drivers. States with licensing programs that had five or more features in the bulleted list above had an 18% to 21% reduction in fatalities among 16-year-old drivers.
What This Means to You. For each mile driven, 16-year-olds have more than 10 times the crash rate of 30- to 59-year-old drivers, and more than twice the crash rate of 18- to 19-year-old drivers. The results of this study indicate that licensing programs that limit nighttime driving, encourage driving with an adult, and require teens to wait a few months after getting their permit before applying for a license may reduce the risk of deadly crashes by about 20%. Even if your state does not mandate these requirements before granting a license, you can institute your own "parental driver licensing program" before allowing your teen to get a license. Your child's driver education teacher or doctor may also have tips on getting your teen driver on the road safely.
Source: Li-Hui Chen, MS, PhD; Susan P. Baker, MPH; Guohua Li, MD, DrPH; Pediatrics, July 2006.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2006