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Teen Driving Deaths and the Law

It is a widely known fact that teens suffer the highest rates of car accidents and car accident deaths of any age group. It is no surprise that the least experienced drivers would get into auto accidents at an elevated rate. What is surprising is the widely varying approaches taken by different states in introducing new drivers onto the road. While fewer and fewer teens are choosing to get licenses, particularly in urban areas, teens as young as 14 can be legally on the roads in South Dakota and Iowa. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is now recommending what it calls "best practices" for states in getting new drivers up to speed on safe driving.

Due to advancements in technology, driving fatalities per mile driven have been dropping for years. The rate of fatalities among teen drivers is no exception, but the issue is larger than technology. Since 1996, the fatality rate for 16-year-olds is down almost 70 percent. Much of the credit for that is given to graduated licensing programs. Such programs often limit the exposure of new drivers to potentially dangerous situations. Younger drivers may be forbidden from driving with other teen passengers. They may have intermediate licenses that forbid them from driving at night without a licensed adult in the vehicle. They ensure that young drivers get more experience behind the wheel before facing the most difficult driving circumstances.

The IIHS suggests that every state should implement the following restrictions:

  • Intermediate license age of 17
  • Minimum permit age of 16
  • Minimum of 65 hours of supervised practice
  • Night driving restriction starting at 8 p.m.
  • Complete ban on teens driving with teen passengers

They contend that if all of these safety measures were put in place nationwide, driving deaths among those in the 15-17 age bracket would be reduced by more than 50 percent.

Many of these rules would be unpopular among teens and among parents. Critics also point out that accident rates may simply go up among 18-year-olds if people choose to avoid the licensing constraints by getting licensed later. Everyone is a new driver at some point in their lives. What is important is that drivers be given the skills they need in the safest possible manner.

Source: USA Today, "Is it time to ban driver's licenses for 14-year-olds?," by Chris Woodyard, 4 June 2012

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