There’s no question: teens are more dangerous drivers than any other age group.
Due to many factors, a disproportionately large percentage of young drivers are involved in traffic accidents. These factors include: a lack of driving experience and poor driving skills, distractions from other passengers, excessive nighttime driving, and risky behavior.
In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 16-year-old drivers are three times more likely than 17-year-olds to crash their cars. They are five times as likely to crash as 18-year-olds, and twice as likely as 85-year-olds to get into an accident.
Then there’s the research that shows that teens are twice as likely as adults to be involved in a fatal crash. What’s more, teens are four times as likely as people between age 25 and 69 to be involved in a fatal car crash. If your child is a new driver and has been in an accident, your insurance rates will likely go up considerably.
A few other sobering statistics about teen drivers:
- Car accidents are the leading killer of American teens
- More than 10 teens die every day in the United States as a result of crashes
- Each year, more than 5,000 people die (and thousands more are injured) in teen-related crashes
- Over 90,000 people have been killed since 1999
Graduated Driver Licensing to the Rescue
As horrific as the numbers above are, they’re better than they were in the past. This improvement is largely due to the introduction and popularity of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs.
Originally created in Australia in the 1960s, these programs didn’t show up in America until the late 1980s. GDLs usually involve three phases: learner’s permit, intermediate (provisional) license, and full license.
Before, American teenagers went through a straightforward and far more dangerous process to get a driver’s license. At that time, drivers as young as 16 who passed the tests got their licenses and were unleased on the world. They were free to pile as many of their friends into a car as they could, and go for a ride.
Since the 1980s, every single state has enacted some sort of GDL law, but they vary quite a bit. Different states include different components, including the strength of the restrictions.
Explaining the Three Phases of GDL
Beyond simply reducing teen car crashes, GDL programs also introduce young drivers to the driving experience in a gradual, low-risk manner. They increase privileges and decrease restrictions over a period of years, and by completing the following phases:
Stage 1: Learner’s Permit—In general, a teen needs to be a certain age (16 in most states) and pass vision and knowledge tests to get his or her learner’s permit. In states such as California, teens under the age of 18 need to take an in classroom or online California Drivers Ed course. Also, most states mandate these drivers be with an experienced adult while driving. Some states have a variety of restrictions, such as a limit on the number of passengers, use of cell phones, and even the types of roads they can drive on.
Stage 2: Intermediate, Provisional, or Probationary License—After a driver has held a learner’s permit for six months, and passed a behind-the-wheel test, they may drive without adult supervision. That said, they would still face numerous restrictions on driving. For example, they can only drive at certain times of day without an adult present. This typically includes after midnight until around sunrise. Other common restrictions involve the number of passengers and cell-phone usage.
Stage 3: Unrestricted/Full Licensure—Teen drivers can apply for a full license once they’ve fulfilled a series of prerequisites. For example, they must reach a certain age, spend a specific number of hours behind the wheel, and pass a road or hazard-perception tests. It’s important to note that these tasks differ from state to state.
GDL Success So Far
How successful have GDL programs and laws been since they first appeared? According to research from The Safe Roads 4 Teens Coalition, states with strong GDL laws have fewer teen driver crashes, up to 40 percent in some cases.
Fewer crashes are good for everyone, teens and parents alike. Parents of teens who have recently completed GDL programs have more than one reason to celebrate: this may bring down the cost of car insurance. If your son or daughter has recently completed the first two GDL stages, you should compare rates to make sure you’re not overpaying.
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Other studies have returned similarly positive (and broad) results, including:
- An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report from May 2012 found that the death rate for 16-year-old drivers fell 68 percent between 1996 and 2010 thanks to the adoption of GDL laws. For 17-year -olds, the death rate fell 59 percent during the same period, while it fell 52 percent and 47 percent for 18- and 19-year-olds, respectively
- In 2006, Johns Hopkins University released a national evaluation of GDL programs that found that the most comprehensive programs bring about reductions of about 20 percent in 16-year-old drivers’ fatal crash rates
- A 2002 study from Nova Scotia found the likelihood of crashes among beginning drivers was reduced during both the learner and intermediate portions of the GDL process. This was the first study to investigate the benefits of each of these licensing stages
GDL programs have been found to be successful on a state level, too. A few cases in point:
- According to one study from 2000, Florida’s GDL law caused a 9-percent reduction in crashes for drivers aged 16 and 17 years old
- Ongoing research in Michigan and North Carolina shows that the GDL programs in place in those states caused a 26-percent reduction in crashes involving 16-year-olds. They also found a 25-percent reduction in crashes involving 17-year-old drivers
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s evaluation of Georgia’s and Oregon’s GDL programs found that both have succeeded in decreasing the teen crash rates
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