A Need to Support Older Novice Drivers: National Teen Driver Safety Week

September 29, 2014

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Today’s teen driver safety programs typically target novice drivers who are 15 to 17 years old and in high school. However, recent research tells us that nationally a significant minority of drivers– about one in three -- get their licenses after their 18th birthday. These young drivers get licensed without the protective benefits of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), except in New Jersey where full GDL extends to all novice drivers under age 21, and without the exposure to educational campaigns when they first begin to drive.

The Call to Action

With the release of this new research, we ask teen driver safety advocates and stakeholders to use National Teen Driver Safety Week, taking place this October 19 to 25th, to get the conversation started on how can we protect these older teens during their learning-to-drive process and decrease their likelihood of crashing.

I recently talked to Allison Curry, PhD, MPH, director of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at CIRP@CHOP and author of a report funded by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Research and a research article in Accident Analysis and Prevention on licensing patterns in New Jersey, where the minimum age of licensure is 17. She explained that the rates and timing of licensure have remained stable in NJ since 2006 despite changes to the state’s GDL provisions and the economic recession, suggesting that this is neither a recession-driven nor a GDL avoidance-driven trend.  It’s here to stay.

Dr. Curry also noted that stark differences in licensing patterns emerge when you look at socioeconomic factors:

  • While virtually all of New Jersey’s young residents in the highest-income areas are licensed by age 21, 39 percent in the lowest income areas are not licensed by age 21.
  • Among those living in the lowest-income zip codes, only 13 percent are licensed within one month of turning 17, and only 36 percent are licensed by age 18.
  • Conversely, 65 percent of those living in NJ’s highest-income zip codes are licensed immediately upon turning 17 and 78 percent are licensed within six months.

Similar patterns were seen in a nationally representative survey of young adults ages 18 to 20 conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This survey also found racial/ethnic differences that highlight important disparities that may place some populations at increased crash risk.  AAA found that a majority (67 percent) of Non-Hispanic white teens but a minority of Non-Hispanic black teens (37 percent) and Hispanic teens (29 percent) are licensed by age 18.

AAA’s survey also showed that teens’ decisions to delay licensure are primarily economic:

“We hope these findings spark a dialogue among policymakers and policy stakeholders to develop strategies to address the needs of older novice teen drivers,” says Dr. Curry. “While driving provides the mobility that many need for employment and social and educational opportunities, as well as independence, all new drivers are at an increased risk of crashing compared to their more experienced counterparts.”

Strategies For Teen Driver Safety Advocates and Stakeholders

  • Support or initiate efforts to extend the GDL requirements of your state to cover older novices through age 20 years.
  • Plan to support novice drivers 18 years and older with educational and awareness programs beyond the high school setting.
  • Because youth delay licensure primarily for economic reasons, programs need to be affordable and accessible and may need to be messaged differently than programs based in high school settings.

Please share your ideas for how to reach older youth with education and awareness about becoming a safe driver via  @safetymd#teendriving2014 or Ride Like A Friend Facebook.