Graduated Licenses Can Save Lives, Says IIHS

May 30, 2012

While fatal crash rates of teen drivers have plunged in recent years, a new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows that states can significantly reduce teen fatalities and collision rates by strengthening existing graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws.

Fatal crashes per 100,000 people - IIHS infographic

Fatal crashes per 100,000 people - IIHS infographic

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How much improvement can states realize? According to the report, a dozen states could halve or more than halve their rate of fatal crashes among 15- to 17-year olds if they adopted the strongest GDL provisions. Putting it in stark figures, that equates to a potential of more than 500 lives saved and more than 9,500 collisions prevented each year.

All 50 states and Washington, D.C. have three stages of graduated driver licensing (a supervised learner’s period, an intermediate license-after passing a road test-that limits driving in high-risk situations, and full-privilege driver’s license), but the systems vary in strength.

Five key GDL components – and which states have the best practices

Research conducted previously by the IIHS and HLDI show that states with the strongest laws have the biggest reductions in fatal crashes among teens 15- to 17-years old and the biggest reductions in collisions among 16- to 17-year-old drivers, compared to states with weaker laws.

Strong state laws incorporate tough standards in the five key GDL components: permit age, practice driving hours, license age, night driving restrictions and passenger restrictions.

States with the best practices in these key components include:

  • Minimum permit age of 16 – Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island
  • At least 65 supervised practice hours – Pennsylvania
  • Minimum intermediate license age of 17 – New Jersey
  • Night-driving restriction beginning at 8 p.m. (during the intermediate stage) – Idaho, and in South Carolina during daylight saving time
  • Ban on all teen passengers – Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia

“Even the best states can do better,” said Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research. She added that states don’t have to adopt the toughest laws to realize safety gains. “Strengthening one or two components pays off. To maximize all the benefits of graduated licensing, however, we would encourage lawmakers to consider the strongest provision,” McCartt said.

Teens in car - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Teens in car - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

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How stronger laws could Idaho and South Dakota

Drilling down to how changes in the key components – making them stronger – could benefit Idaho and South Dakota is illustrative of just how much improvement can be realized. Both states allow teens to get learner’s permits at age 14, but while Idaho makes teens wait until 16 to obtain their license, South Dakota permits full license privileges at just 14 years, three months—the youngest license age in the U.S.

That’s “too risky,” McCartt said. “The younger teens are when they get their licenses, the higher their crash rate.”

Here’s how strengthening the laws could help. By raising the license age to 17, South Dakota could see an estimated 32 percent reduction in fatal crash rates (among 15- to 17-year-old drivers) and a 13 percent reduction in collision claims among drivers aged 16 to 17. Even raising the license age to 15-1/2 could reduce fatal crashes among young drivers an estimated 16 percent and collision claims by 6 percent.

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