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Directions in Highway Safety Cover - Summer 2010 Download Newsletter pdf
[2.7 MB, 12 pgs.]

Summer 2010 | Vol. 12 | No. 4

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GAO Issues Report on Teen Driver Safety

The General Accountability Office (GAO) calls for further research on teen driver safety in its latest report to Congress. The report, issued on May 28, also enumerates the challenges states face in trying to improve the safety of teen drivers.

GAO reviewed research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and NHTSA. GAO staff also conducted site visits to six states: Fla., Mich., Miss., N.J., N.D. and Ore. They interviewed teen driver safety experts, researchers, local transportation officials, and associations—including GHSA.

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The report finds limited evidence on the efficacy of optimal provisions for Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), such as: minimum age of entry; specific hours of nighttime restrictions; number and type of passengers to be restricted and duration of restriction; amount and effectiveness of driver education; effectiveness of bans on electronic devices; length of learner’s and intermediate stages; and role of parental involvement. Without additional research, it will be difficult for states to convince legislatures to improve GDL laws. GAO reports that many of the current studies on GDL do not account for the interplay of GDL provisions or control for factors such as differences in teen socio-economic status or the limited amount of driving conducted by teens. NHTSA is currently conducting research on several aspects of GDL provisions, but it will be some time before that research is completed.

In addition to shortcomings in the research, GAO also notes that states face numerous challenges to improving their driver safety programs, yet some have developed strategies for overcoming them. For example, to surmount research limitations, states conduct pilot projects to determine program effectiveness. To overcome difficulties in strengthening GDL legislation, states form task forces to champion the legislation. Other challenges include: difficulty enforcing GDL laws, limited resources available for teen driver safety programs, disarray in driver education across the country, relatively few parental programs that have been developed and evaluated, public attitudes that lead to reckless behavior, and an uniformed judiciary.

Although the GAO report acknowledges NHTSA’s ongoing research efforts, it recommends NHTSA conduct additional research to determine optimal GDL provisions. NHTSA has proposed a metaanalysis (an analysis of all the research conducted to date) be undertaken to test the statistical significance of the evidence to date.

For a copy of the full report, visit