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Driver's-License Limits Reduce Teen Crashes

Study of California law reveals 23 percent drop in accidents with 16-year-olds

FRIDAY, Sept. 8, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A 1998 California law that restricts teenage driving has reduced accidents involving 16-year-old drivers by 23 percent, a new report finds.

The California law, like graduated licensing laws in other states, extends the learner-permit period and has parents certify that teen drivers get at least 50 hours of driving practice. Even after 16-year-olds get a driver's license, their driving is restricted. For example, they may not drive unsupervised at night or any time with teen passengers.

The California law is responsible for a 27 percent decrease in nighttime crashes and a 38 percent decrease in crash rates with teen passengers, according to the report: the Evaluation of California's Graduated Licensing System, released last week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

This is "more evidence that graduated licensing is reducing crashes," Susan Ferguson, the institute's senior vice president for research, said in a prepared statement. "We conducted our analyses several ways, all of which revealed positive results. So, we know the law is successful."

Similar laws in other states are credited with reducing the rate of fatal crashes among teens, the report noted.

Justin McNaull, director of state relations at the American Automobile Association, said, "This is one more important piece of evidence in the continuing effort to expand graduated driver's licensing across the country. We know that it is effective."

California may see even greater reductions in teen driving accidents, the Institute noted. Recently, the California law was strengthened. The new law raises the minimum age for a learner's permit from 15 to 15 1/2; the nighttime driving curfew now starts at 11 p.m. instead of midnight; and passenger restrictions have been extended for the first year of having a license instead of the first six months.

"The findings are strong and consistent with what's been found in other states, in terms in reduction of crashes and fatalities," said Joel W. Grube, director of the Prevention Research Center, Berkeley, Calif.

Every state has some form of graduated licensing, but it varies greatly, McNaull said. "There are five states -- Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, North Dakota and Minnesota -- that have neither passenger restrictions nor nighttime restrictions. These are two of the building blocks that have been shown to have a real impact in saving teen lives," he said.

In Alabama, McNaull noted, the law there says there can be no more than four passengers in a car driven by a teen, while Alaska's law doesn't allow for any passengers under 21 years of age, except for siblings.

"We know that when you add teen passengers to a car with a new teen driver, the crash risk balloons, especially when you put in three or more," McNaull said. "So, states that don't have strict passenger limits don't have the same benefits as states that limit the number of passengers," he said, adding, the same is true for nighttime restrictions.

NcNaull acknowledged that graduated licensing is a lot more work for parents because they have to provide transportation for their children. "But it's worth it. It saves kid's lives," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can tell you more about safe driving.

SOURCES: Justin McNaull, director, state relations, American Automobile Association, Washington, D.C.; Joel W. Grube, Ph.D., director, Prevention Research Center, Berkeley, Calif.; Aug. 31, 2006, Evaluation of California's Graduated Licensing System, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Va.
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