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Directions in Highway Safety, Fall 2008 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Fall 2008 | Vol. 11 | No. 3

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IIHS Calls for Delays in Teen Licensure

The GHSA Annual Meeting was the scene for the release of one of the most controversial highway safety reports in some time. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) President Adrian Lund presented the organization's latest study which called for delaying licensure to save more young lives.

According to IIHS, a significant number of lives are lost by allowing licensure sooner rather than later, and 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, the driving age is 18.

Legislation was introduced during the most recent state sessions by 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. None of these measures, nor one that would have increased the licensing age in Illinois to 18, met with any success this past legislative session.

Lund acknowledged that this is "tough sell," but he said it was an important enough issue to challenge the current policies and at least consider changing the age at which we allow teenagers to get their licenses to drive. After all, according to IIHS, graduated licensing has been successful ever since states began to adopt these programs more than a decade ago, and increasing 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 states include permit periods and then limit when and with whom young beginners may drive. The result has been lowered crash rates in state after state.

Teens in Car

Among the 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 can 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 in Connecticut), but the combined rate for 16 and 17 yearolds 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).

GHSA members reacted to the report positively, indicating that it was sure to draw attention to the teen driving issue. The Association doesn't have a formal position as to when full licensure should occur but will continue working with IIHS and other partners to explore opportunities for saving teen lives.

To download the IIHS report, visit