Put Off Driver Licensure to Save Lives

Sep 09, 2008, 01:00 ET from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

    ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Most US states allow
 driving at age 16, 16 1/2, or somewhere in between. A new Insurance
 Institute for Highway Safety report focuses on the costs in terms of lives
 of allowing licensure sooner rather than later. The message is that
 licensing at later ages would substantially reduce crashes involving teen
 drivers. The same conclusion has been reached in other countries. Teens in
 Great Britain and most Australian states can't get their licenses until
 they turn 17, for example. In most EU countries it's 18. The Institute's
 new report is being released at the annual meeting of the Governors Highway
 Safety Association.
     Legislation was introduced during the most recent sessions of lawmakers
 in Delaware, Florida, and Georgia to adopt 17 as the minimum age to get a
 driver's license. One bill in Massachusetts also proposed 17, while another
 one argued for 18. Yet none of these measures, nor one that would have
 raised the licensing age in Illinois to 18, met with any success.
     "This is a tough sell," says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice
 president for research, "but it's an important enough issue to challenge
 the silence and at least consider changing the age at which we allow
 teenagers to get their licenses to drive. After all, graduated licensing
 has been successful ever since states began to adopt these programs more
 than a decade ago, and raising the licensing age is a logical next step to
 reduce driving by the riskiest motorists on the road, the youngest ones."
 The graduated systems in most US states include permit periods and then
 limit when and with whom young beginners may drive. The result has been to
 lower the crash rates in state after state.
     New Jersey example: Among US states, only New Jersey holds off
 licensure until age 17, and a recent analysis of the crash experience of
 young drivers indicates the benefits. A rate of 4.4 16-year-old drivers per
 100,000 population were in fatal crashes during the study years, compared
 with 20.7 per 100,000 in neighboring Connecticut, where 16 year-olds could
 get licenses. The lower death rate in New Jersey was offset by a slightly
 higher rate at age 17 (32.3 versus 31.1 per 100,000), but the combined rate
 for 16 and 17 year-olds still was much lower than in Connecticut. These
 comparisons don't reflect the benefits of graduated licensing in either
 state because the study years, 1992-96, were before graduated systems began
 to be adopted in New Jersey (2001) or Connecticut (1997).
     Two previous Institute studies also compared the effects of the
 licensing policies in New Jersey versus Connecticut. During 1975-80, there
 were 4 crash deaths of 16-year-old drivers per 100,000 in New Jersey
 compared with 26 per 100,000 in Connecticut. The authors estimated that
 Connecticut could achieve a 66 percent reduction in fatal crashes among 16-
 and 17-year-old drivers by changing the licensing age to 17. Similar
 differences in these states' rates of all kinds of crashes, not just fatal
 ones, were reported a decade later.
     Australian state thwarted earlier licenses: When an attempt got under
 way in the 1980s to lower the licensing age in Victoria, Australia, from 18
 years old to 17 or 16, researchers studied the potential effects and
 estimated that changing to 17 would result in 650 to 700 more injury
 crashes per year and 30 to 50 more crashes involving deaths. Lowering the
 licensing age to 16 would worsen this jurisdiction's annual toll even more.
 Sub-sequent study indicated that restricting the driving privileges of
 Victoria's newly licensed 17 year-olds under a graduated system wouldn't
 make up for the added risk associated with lowering the licensing age.
     Allan Williams, former Institute chief scientist and author of the new
 report on the driving age, says "the two policies, licensing later rather
 than sooner and restricting beginners' driving under graduated licensing,
 complement each other." Victoria retains its licensing age of 18.
     Driver age versus experience: A basic question is whether the risk
 associated with beginning drivers stems from their youth and immaturity or
 their inexperience behind the wheel. If it's mainly immaturity, then it
 would pay to put off licensure until teenagers get a little older. But if
 the problem is mostly inexperience, delaying licensure would simply put off
 the toll of beginners' crashes. It's hard to separate these two factors.
 Death rates among 16 year-olds are much lower in New Jersey than in
 Connecticut. This isn't surprising, and it indicates the wisdom of
 licensing later rather than sooner. However, death rates are slightly
 higher among 17-year-old drivers in New Jersey, likely because they have
 less experience behind the wheel than drivers the same age in Connecticut.
     Canadian researchers tried to untangle the influence of age and
 experience on crashes involving beginners by dividing drivers 16, 17, and
 18 years old according to whether they had been driving less than a year or
 more than a year. The main finding, reported in 1992, is that 16 year-olds,
 especially girls this age, had higher rates of injury crashes than older
 teenagers who also were new to the road.
     A review of 11 studies published since 1990 also separates the relative
 contributions of driver age and inexperience to beginners' crashes. The
 upshot of this Institute study is that new drivers who are 16 years old
 have higher crash rates than older teenagers who also are new drivers.
     "Apart from the effects of age or experience, delaying driver licensure
 reduces crash rates by reducing the amount young people drive," McCartt
     When teenagers get their licenses to drive
United States South Dakota 14 1/2 Idaho 15 Montana 15 Mississippi 15 1/2 New Mexico 15 1/2 South Carolina 15 1/2 Indiana 16 1/2 Maryland 16 1/2 Virginia 16 1/2 Connecticut 16 1/2 Delaware 16 1/2 District of Columbia 16 1/2 Kentucky 16 1/2 Massachusetts 16 1/2 New York 16 1/2 Pennsylvania 16 1/2 Rhode Island 16 1/2 New Jersey 17 Other US states 16 Note: Ages at which US states permit unsupervised driving, in most cases with restrictions on night driving and passengers but none on where beginners may drive.
New Zealand 15 Canada Alberta, NW Territories, Saskatchewan, Yukon 16 Nanavut 16 1/2 Manitoba, Nova Scotia 16 1/4 New Brunswick 16 1/3 Labrador, Newfoundland Ontario, Quebec 16 2/3 Prince Edward Island 16 3/4 British Columbia 17 Australia 17 except Northern Territory 16 1/2 except Victoria 18 United Kingdom 17 Most EU countries 18 Brazil 18 China 18 Japan 18 Russia 18 South Africa 18 For more information go to www.iihs.org

SOURCE Insurance Institute for Highway Safety