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 Teen Driver Crisis

Fatalities Trend Upward
How Does Your State’s GDL Law Stack Up?

Resources for Promoting Teen Driver Safety

Fatalities Trend Upward
   After dropping steadily most of the last decade, teen driver deaths are on the rise, according to data from 2011 and preliminary numbers from the first six months of 2012.  A report published in February by the
Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) says that information supplied by all 50 states and the District of Columbia indicates that 38 more 16- and 17-year-old drivers were killed in crashes from January through June last year compared to the same period in 2011, representing a 19 percent jump.  The 2011 fatalities were also up by 6 percent over the low of 191 reported in 2010. 
   Although this finding coincides with a general rise in traffic deaths (with
NHTSA projecting an 8 percent increase overall for 2012), of concern is that teen driver deaths have apparently increased at a far greater rate.  Deaths of the newest drivers increased the most, with 107 fatalities among 16-year-old drivers compared to 86 in 2011 (a 24 percent change).  Deaths of 17-year-olds went from 116 to 133 (a 15 percent change). 
   Lead researcher Dr. Allan Williams suggested that, like the rise in fatalities overall, these finding are likely in part due to a stronger economy, which leads to more drivers (and, therefore, more risk).  It is also likely that the gains made by graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, as currently written, are beginning to level off. 
   Though it is true that the GDL laws of many states have been in place for a number of years now, nearly all such laws could be strengthened to be more effective.  (See related article on this page.)  For instance, many laws fail to incorporate important components like nighttime driving or passenger restrictions, or the enforcement is secondary (the driver can only be pulled over and cited if another primary infraction has occurred). 
   A study published last June by The
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance found that primary seat belt laws were far more effective than secondary ones in getting teens to buckle up, especially as they moved beyond the GDL stage (SRN May/June 2012).  Therefore, continued advocacy for upgraded legislation could be one way to put the former trend of declining teen deaths back on track.
Kendell Poole
, chairman of GHSA, said, “As the report notes, a widespread strengthening of laws is still possible, and utilizing effective tools outside of GDL should be a focus. These include improving driver education and ensuring that scientifically based educational programs are available to new drivers.”
   The 19 percent increase in 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths reflects the net of all states. The full report is also broken down by state and shows that 25 states reported increases, 17 had decreases, and eight states and the District of Columbia reported no change in the number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths.
   The states with the most teen driver deaths reported during the first six months of 2012 were Indiana and Tennessee (16), Louisiana (15), and Texas (14); 11 states reported zero teen driver deaths during this period.

Reference:  Find the GHSA’s full report and other resources at:
Teen Driver Infographic









Click photo to zoom.

 How Does Your State’s GDL Law Stack Up?
2006 NHTSA-supported study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that states with comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs experienced a 20 percent drop in fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds (Compton & Ellison-Potter, 2008). 
   All states have some form of GDL, but most are not considered comprehensive.   NHTSA defines a comprehensive GDL program as one that includes at least five of these seven components:

  • Minimum age of 15 1/2 for obtaining a learner’s permit.
  • Minimum waiting period after obtaining a learner’s permit of at least three months before applying for an intermediate license.
  • Minimum of 30 hours of supervised practice driving.
  • Minimum age of 16 1/2 for obtaining an intermediate license.
  • Nighttime driving restriction during intermediate stage.
  • Passenger restriction during intermediate stage.
  • Minimum age of 17 for full licensure.

   The Advocates for Highway and Automobile Safety (Advocates), an alliance of consumer, health, and safety groups and insurance companies/agents, is dedicated to promoting these and other highway safety laws.  In January, it published the 2013 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, the 10th annual edition of this report that rates 15 key traffic safety laws.  Seven of these have to do with components of GDL laws, mirroring the ones in this article identified by NHTSA.  However, in many cases, Advocates sets a higher bar for full credit in its ratings.  For instance, it identifies as ideal  a minimum age of 16 years for a learner’s permit and 18 for full licensure, requires a longer waiting period of six months before a learner can apply for an intermediate license, and specifies that nighttime driving restrictions should extend from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM. 
   Although 12 states are rated “good” for having at least five optimal laws, none have all seven. (Delaware is the closest, with six.)

Reference:  GDL laws by state and Advocates’ state ratings at

Resources for Promoting Teen Driver Safety
   Research has shown that an increased level of parental monitoring and involvement has a protective effect on new drivers (Simons-Morton, et al., 2008).  The following websites contain helpful resources to guide caregivers and the organizations that support them in this effort.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): (search “Teen Driving”)
American Automobile Association (AAA):
Checkpoints Program:
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:
Ford Motor Company:
National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS):
Governors Highway Safety Association:
Protecting Teen Drivers: A Guidebook for State Highway Safety Offices. 2010.
Safe Kids U.S.A.:
Safest Generation,, (for 11- to 12-year-olds);
Countdown2Drive,, (for 13- to 14-year-olds)
©Safe Ride News March/April 2013


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