Research In Action

Research In Action

GDL advocacy
States Need to Take Action to Reduce Teen Crashes
September 26, 2019

I was recently asked to blog about the need for stronger Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) policies in states across the country to prevent crashes involving teen drivers for PolicyLab's special Back to School series. Although the number of crash fatalities in the U.S. among adolescents has markedly decreased over the last few decades, a recent 14 percent increase from 2014 to 2016 underscores the critical need for policymakers to take action. An abbreviated version of the blog post is included below. Click here to read the full blog post on the PolicyLab website.

Dozens of studies have documented the many crash-reducing benefits of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) for 16-year-olds and the benefits of GDL for 17-year-old drivers in states with well-structured licensing systems. This research includes naturalistic studies that utilize in-vehicle technologies to show actual driving conditions and behaviors in the moments before a crash, as well as analyses of individuals’ licensing and crash data that depict in detail how crash risk changes during the first few years of licensure.

Unfortunately, these findings have not been translated into enhancements to most states’ GDL systems. Although the federal government has incentive grants that are awarded to states if they have a set of GDL restrictions that meet certain criteria, no states have qualified for them. Here are improvements that remain needed in most states:

  1. Enact a Learner License Stage Lasting 12 Months. This will ensure beginner drivers have adequate opportunity to safely acquire a generous amount of parent-supervised driving practice in a wide-range of environments and conditions. Although some policymakers worry that extending the time parents spend supervising driving practice is a burden, parents of teens who have recently completed a mandated 12-month learner period overwhelmingly support that requirement.
  2. Enact a Nighttime Protection for Intermediate Licenses that Begins at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. and Lasts at Least Six Months.Young drivers’ nighttime crashes are heavily concentrated well before midnight, with 50 percent to 60 percent occurring between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. This is why a 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. starting time for requiring adult accompaniment for newly licensed drivers has long been recommended by traffic safety experts. However, only 13 states currently begin their night driving protection at 10 p.m. or earlier, 13 others begin at 11 p.m., 23 at midnight or later and Vermont has no nighttime limit at all.
  3. Enact a Passenger Provision that Allows No More Than One Peer Passenger and Lasts at Least Six Months. Most states have done a good job of setting passenger limits during the intermediate license stage that align with the evidence about passenger effects on young driver risk. Nonetheless, five states have no limit on carrying young passengers during this stage of driving, even though carrying three or more young passengers more than quadruples the risk of a young driver fatality.

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