Graduated Licensing: Does It Defer The Recklessness Of Youth?

September 16, 2010
U.S. lawmakers to get tougher on teen drivers

U.S. lawmakers to get tougher on teen drivers

While a decade or more ago, teens were dreaming of the day they'd turn 16, get their first wheels, and be more social, today's teens are already connected and social at all hours—and perhaps more concerned with getting their next smartphone.

Increasingly, teenagers are forgoing licenses altogether until they're 18 or 19.

And, as we're reported, fewer teens are buying cars, and younger motorists in general are driving less. And the used-car market for teens has dramatically shrunk over the past several years—from 7.5 million to 4.2 million in just five years. It's a trend that's worrisome to the auto industry.

Among the main reasons, surely, is that most states now have so-called graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs, which typically place night-driving bans, all-out cellphone bans, or limitations on passengers—on 16-year-old (and in some cases 17-year-old) drivers. And the consequences are steeper for any moving violations.

Seventeen-percent fewer 16-year-olds are getting a license compared to just a decade ago (from 1999 to 2008), according to federal data. Meanwhile, the percentage of 19-year-olds getting licenses increased during the same time.

And argues, AutoWeek, free high-school driver's ed is no longer an option for most, state fees are higher, fuel prices are higher, and insuring a teen will cause rates to go up for the parent by 50 percent or more.

There are some strong indications that GDL is working to keep teens out of risky driving situations and save lives; the motor-vehicle fatality rate for 16-year-olds fell by 44 percent from 199 to 2008—ahead of other age groups. However the fatality rate for 19-year-olds fell by less than 20 percent; that's not impressive compared to the baseline 27-percent decline for those age 30 to 59.

So if fewer teens are taking advantage of GDL, are we merely pushing inexperience and exuberance off for a few years? Maturity and inexperience come into play in what determines a safe driver, and some experts say adult levels of decision-making with respect to risk aren't reached until 25 years old in some cases (the insurance and rental industries know this).

Are we simply making 19 the new 16? Let us know what you think.


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