Increased Teen Driver Restrictions May Not be Working

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A lot of debate exists about whether teen driving restrictions are successful, and a new nationwide study says graduated driver licensing programs placed on younger teens are merely shifting the dangers to older teens, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But then others still support a study published last year in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention that found the rate of fatal crashes to be lower and the accident rate for 18- and 19-year olds to be essentially the same.

For more than a decade, many states have enacted laws to restrict their newest teen drivers, such as restricting the hours when they can get behind the wheel and whom they can bring along as passengers, and public officials believed they were saving lives. Now, this new study published in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests otherwise.

When the researchers examined data on more than 131,000 fatal crashes involving teen drivers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1986 and 2007, they found that the number of fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers has fallen. But deadly accidents among 18-to-19-year-olds have risen by an almost equal amount.

Experts told the paper it’s not clear why fatal crash rates are higher among older teens in states with stronger graduated driver licensing programs. But one possibility is that teens in these states may be waiting until they bypass the restrictions to get their licenses.

One solution, which is being tried in at least one state, may be to expand graduated driver licensing programs to include 18- and 19-year-olds who are getting behind the wheel for the first time.

Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, believes this solution is a “terrible idea.” He said it was inappropriate to impose such restrictions on legal adults and that the rules could disqualify them from holding certain jobs.

To get a clearer assessment of the graduated programs, researchers may need to dig into the data on individual state programs instead of grouping all states together, Susan P. Baker, a public health professor who has studied the graduated programs, but was not involved in either study, said.

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