Study says tougher teen driving standards could save lives

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One study suggests that a young passenger riding with a teen driver may not be the scary situation some believe. Image: OakleyOriginlas/Flickr/CC BY

A new study suggests that 500 lives would be spared and nearly 10,000 crashes eliminated every year if states enacted tougher licensing standards for teen drivers. Meanwhile, a separate study suggests that peer-group passengers may actually deter teen drivers from texting behind the wheel.

Regulation can reduce deaths

In its study, released May 31, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety pointed out that teen driver traffic death have fallen in the past decade and a half, after graduated licensing programs were adopted by most U.S. states. However, says the study, more can be done to further reduce the grim statistics.

Graduated driver licenses

Graduated driver licenses (GDLs) progressively relax restrictions as a young driver gains motoring experience. Generally, they involve issuing a learner’s permit, followed by an intermediate license and finally, a full license.

Wade Newton, of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said:

“Data show that it’s effective to limit teens’ driving opportunities until they’ve gained greater experience, and GDLs do just that.”

Five toughest standards

Thursday’s insurance industry-backed study concluded that all states should adopt five of the most stringent standards currently in force in some states.

Anne McCartt, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s senior vice president for research, said:

“Even the best states can do better. There’s room for improvement across the board, and states could see immediate reductions in fatal crashes and collision claims as soon as the beefed-up provisions are in force.”

First, according to the report, the minimum age to get a full license should be 17. In most states, that age is still 16. Only New Jersey applies the tougher standard at this time.

Secondly, the Institute believes that leaner permits should not be issued until age 16. At this time, only Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island adhere to that standard.

Thirdly, that a young motorist must have 65 supervised hours behind the wheel before he or she can get a license. Pennsylvania is the only state currently practicing that policy.

Fourth, like Idaho and South Carolina, the report believes restriction should be placed on teens driving after 8 p.m.  And lastly, the study believes in restricting teen passengers when a teen is at the wheel. Currently the most popular move of the bunch, such measures are on the books in 15 states, plus Washington, D.C.

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Disagreement over peer influence

However, while the insurance industry study sides with popular wisdom that teen drivers should be restricted from having teen passengers in the vehicle, a separate study from Consumer Reports, released Wednesday, May 30, concludes that teen drivers may be less likely to talk on a cellphone or to text when they have peers riding along.

Nearly half of the 1,000 16- to 21-year olds surveyed admitted to talking on a cellphone while driving. Another 27 percent admitted to texting behind the wheel. However, nearly half agreed that they were less likely to do so if they had a peer in the car with them. Nearly half also said they have asked a fellow teen to not text or use the phone while driving.

Liza Barth, associate Web editor for autos at Consumer Reports, said:

“There’s a stigma around it, so maybe they’re getting that peer influence.”

Learning begins at home

In this case, fellow teens may be acting as greater role models than the parents of some of those teens surveyed. A full 48 percent of those surveyed said they have observed one or both parents use a cellphone while driving.


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