While fatal crash rates of teen drivers have plunged in recent years, a new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows that states can significantly reduce teen fatalities and collision rates by strengthening existing graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws.
How much improvement can states realize? According to the report, a dozen states could halve or more than halve their rate of fatal crashes among 15- to 17-year olds if they adopted the strongest GDL provisions. Putting it in stark figures, that equates to a potential of more than 500 lives saved and more than 9,500 collisions prevented each year.
All 50 states and Washington, D.C. have three stages of graduated driver licensing (a supervised learner’s period, an intermediate license-after passing a road test-that limits driving in high-risk situations, and full-privilege driver’s license), but the systems vary in strength.
Five key GDL components – and which states have the best practices
Research conducted previously by the IIHS and HLDI show that states with the strongest laws have the biggest reductions in fatal crashes among teens 15- to 17-years old and the biggest reductions in collisions among 16- to 17-year-old drivers, compared to states with weaker laws.
Strong state laws incorporate tough standards in the five key GDL components: permit age, practice driving hours, license age, night driving restrictions and passenger restrictions.
States with the best practices in these key components include:
“Even the best states can do better,” said Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research. She added that states don’t have to adopt the toughest laws to realize safety gains. “Strengthening one or two components pays off. To maximize all the benefits of graduated licensing, however, we would encourage lawmakers to consider the strongest provision,” McCartt said.
How stronger laws could Idaho and South Dakota
Drilling down to how changes in the key components – making them stronger – could benefit Idaho and South Dakota is illustrative of just how much improvement can be realized. Both states allow teens to get learner’s permits at age 14, but while Idaho makes teens wait until 16 to obtain their license, South Dakota permits full license privileges at just 14 years, three months—the youngest license age in the U.S.
That’s “too risky,” McCartt said. “The younger teens are when they get their licenses, the higher their crash rate.”
Here’s how strengthening the laws could help. By raising the license age to 17, South Dakota could see an estimated 32 percent reduction in fatal crash rates (among 15- to 17-year-old drivers) and a 13 percent reduction in collision claims among drivers aged 16 to 17. Even raising the license age to 15-1/2 could reduce fatal crashes among young drivers an estimated 16 percent and collision claims by 6 percent.
Taking another example, consider how toughening night driving restrictions could yield benefits. Iowa’s restriction begins at 12:30 a.m., while in South Dakota, the restriction starts at 10 p.m. If Iowa adopted an 8 p.m. restriction, teen fatal crashes would be reduced 10 percent.
There are no restrictions on teen passengers in either state. If Iowa and South Dakota both adopt bans on teen passengers for beginner drivers, the result would be a 21 percent drop in teen fatalities (among 15- to 17-year-old drivers) and a 5 percent drop in collision claim rates (among drivers aged 16 to 17).
But the best-case scenario is if both states toughen provisions across the board by implementing the best practices. South Dakota would realize reductions of 63 percent in fatal crashes and 37 percent in collision claims. Iowa could see a 55 percent fatal crash rate reduction and 29 percent in collision claims.
New online calculator measures effects of state GDL changes
The Institute and HLDI have developed an online calculator to estimate the effects of strengthening or weakening the five key GDL provisions on a state-by-state basis. The projections are based on results showing what matters most in preventing fatal crashes and collision rates among teen drivers.
The estimated percent reductions in teen driver fatal crashes and collision claims if states adopted the best GDL provisions ranges from 17 percent in Washington, D.C. and Connecticut to 56 percent in North Dakota (fatal teen crashes) and from 6 percent in Pennsylvania to 37 percent in South Dakota (collision claims).
Here are two examples of how individual states can significantly reduce teen crash fatalities and collision rates by adopting the best practice provisions.
See more information from the IIHS on young driver licensing systems in the United States, along with calculator methodology, click here.
(c) 2012, High Gear Media.