Fatalities down sharply as 16-year-olds drive less

February 24, 2014 by Amy Johns, West Virginia University

Getting behind a steering wheel has been the most hotly anticipated rite of passage for most American teenagers (and a cause of insomnia among parents) practically since the invention of the automobile. For decades, 16-year-olds were free to drive independently to the store, to school, and on dates. Laws are tougher these days, and all 50 states have implemented graduated driver's licensing (GDL), requiring drivers under 18 to gain driving privileges in phases. A new study by researchers in the West Virginia University School of Public Health published in the journal Injury Prevention suggests these provisional permits have led to a dramatic drop in vehicular fatalities among 16-year-olds.

The study, "The association of with miles driven and fatal per miles driven among adolescents," is the work of a team led by Motao Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the WVU Department of Epidemiology and researcher for the WVU Injury Control Research Center. Although previous studies had noted fewer young people were dying as a result of crashes, Dr. Zhu and his colleagues were the first to look at how the graduated licenses affect miles teens drive and their crash rates per miles driven.

"We found that graduated driver license laws reduced crashes by approximately 35 percent among 16-year-old drivers," Zhu explained. "About half the reduction was due to fewer crashes per miles driven and half to the fact that they simply drive less."

State GDL laws require drivers under 18 slowly gain driving experience through three stages:

  • An extended learner phase, where the driver only drives while supervised for three to twelve months;
  • An intermediate phase, which allows unsupervised driving under low-risk conditions, such as daylight, and;
  • Full licensure, permitting unsupervised driving at all times.

"The differences became less pronounced at 17 and 18," Zhu continued. "The laws were associated with a 17 percent reduction in fatal crashes among 17-year-old drivers, which we attributed to reduced driving miles, with no reduction seen in the fatal crash rate per miles driven. They just drive less. For 18-year-olds, graduated driving laws showed little association with either."

Zhu's team analyzed data from the both the U.S. National Household Travel Survey and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for the years 1995-1996, 2001-2002, and 2008-2009. Teens subject to GDL laws were compared to those who were not.

Explore further: Graduated driving laws reduce teen drunk driving

More information: "The association of graduated driver licensing with miles driven and fatal crash rates per miles driven among adolescents." Motao Zhu, Peter Cummings, Songzhu Zhao, Jeffrey H Coben, Gordon S Smith. Inj Prev. injuryprev-2013-040999Published Online First: 13 February 2014 DOI: 10.1136/injuryprev-2013-040999

Related Stories

Graduated driving laws reduce teen drunk driving

June 15, 2012
State laws that limit driving privileges for teens have reduced the incidence of drinking and driving among the nation's youngest licensees, according to a new study from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine ...

Accident rates improving for older US drivers

February 20, 2014
Safety researchers expressed concern a decade ago that traffic accidents would increase as the aging U.S. population swelled the number of older drivers on the road. Now, they say they' have been proved wrong.

Study shows New Jersey's decal for young drivers reduced crashes

October 23, 2012
A new study shows that New Jersey's law requiring novice drivers to display a red decal on their license plates has prevented more than 1,600 crashes and helped police officers enforce regulations unique to new drivers. The ...

Speed a factor in one-third of deadly crashes involving teen drivers

June 27, 2013
(HealthDay)—Speeding is a factor in a third of fatal crashes involving teen drivers in the United States, according to a new report.

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.