Restrictions placed on teenagers’ driving privileges has led to a decrease in the number of fatal automobile accidents among 16-year-olds. Research suggests, however, that the risk may simply have shifted to older teens, as a corresponding rise in traffic fatalities has occurred among 18-year-olds. A study published in the September 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed data from crashes nationwide covering the years 1986 to 2007 and found an increase in fatal car accidents as teens get older. 16-year-olds average 28.2 fatal crashes per 100,000 person-years, compared to 36.9 for 27-year-olds and 46.2 for 18-year-olds.
Graduated driver licensing laws, known as GDLs, limit driving privileges of 16-year-olds until they gain experience in lower-risk driving situations. Most GDL’s establish three stages: a “learner’s” period requiring supervised driving, an intermediate period with limited unsupervised driving, and a full privilege period identical to an adult driver’s license. Some states add restrictions on nighttime driving, use of cell phones while driving, and number of passengers allowed in cars operated by teenagers. New Jersey requires drivers without full privileges to display a “new driver” decal on their vehicles.
Maryland’s GDL allows entry into the learner’s stage at 15 years, 9 months, and requires a minimum of 9 months in that stage with a minimum of 60 hours of supervised driving. Young drivers may enter the intermediate stage at age 16 years, 6 months and after completing the learner’s stage. Intermediate drivers cannot drive unsupervised between midnight and 5:00 a.m. and cannot have passengers under the age of 18 for the first five months. All restrictions may be lifted at age 18.
By limiting new drivers’ exposure to high-risk, dangerous situations, GDLs appear to have successfully reduced the total number of fatal car accidents among 16- and 17-year-old teens. Researchers suspect, however, that at least part of the higher rate of fatalities among 18-year-olds may be due to teens deferring obtaining a driver’s license until age 18, thus skipping the GDL process entirely. This results in 18-year-old new drivers who have not gone through the training process encompassed by GDL’s.
“[Older teens] are saying, ‘The heck with your more complicated process,'” says Justin McNaull, director of state relations for the American Automobile Association. At 18, teenagers can, in many cases, get their license in a matter of weeks.
No national database exists to show the total number of 16-year-old drivers compared to older new drivers. The hypothesis is therefore largely anecdotal, as it is not clear if there are fewer 16-year-old drivers nationwide. The study’s finding suggest that there is no net change in the total number of traffic fatalities, at least as related to GDL’s, but rather that the risk has shifted to slightly older drivers.
The risk to Maryland drivers is not clear from the study’s findings. Young and inexperienced drivers must adhere to a series of restrictions meant to gradually prepare them for unsupervised driving. Older but equally inexperienced drivers may find themselves on Maryland roads without the same degree of education and preparation. Whatever the reason for a teenager to defer obtaining a driver’s license, all young drivers should be aware of the risks in bypassing the GDL process, and all drivers should be aware and be careful on the road.
Fatal Car Crashes Drop For 16-Year-Olds, Rise For Older Teens, NPR, September 14, 2011
Driving Restrictions Help Prevent Deadly Crashes Among 16-Year-Olds, U.S. News & World Report, September 13, 2011
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Laws, Governors Highway Safety Association
Young driver licensing systems in the U.S., Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Summary table: young driver licensing systems in the U.S., Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
More Blog Posts:
With Summer Here There Are Steps Teen Drivers Can Take to Avoid Causing Washington DC Car Accidents, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 23, 2010
Maryland Car Accident Lawsuit: Family of Teen Killed in Crash Plans to Sue Calvert County Sheriff’s Office for Wrongful Death, Maryland Accident Law Blog, September 14, 2009
$7 Million Maryland Wrongful Death: Truck Driver’s Family Sues Teen Driver For Fatal Collision that Caused Trucker to Plunge into the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 25, 2009