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Phasing in Teen Drivers

by Linda Lyons

Teens and cars have often traveled bumpy roads together -- add loud music, a lack of experience, and friends to the mix, and those roads can become deadly. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens, accounting for more than one-third of all deaths of 16- to 18-year-olds. Fatal crashes are more likely to occur when other teen-agers are in the car, and that risk continues to rise with every additional teen passenger. Almost two of every three teen passenger deaths (62%) occur in crashes with a teen driver.*

Given those statistics, it's no wonder that 44 states have enacted one or more elements of a model Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) law. The intent of a GDL system is to provide a gradual, structured period behind the wheel during which a new driver can gain experience before receiving a full-privilege driver's license. GDL systems vary from state to state. Most involve periods of driving with a licensed adult driver in the car; restrictions on hours of driving or night driving; and perhaps most importantly, restrictions on the number of passengers the teen driver can have in the car.

Teens seem to like the idea of a gradual, structured licensing system. The latest Gallup Youth Survey** found that the majority (81%) of all teens aged 13 to 17 like the concept. When asked why they found it appealing, close to half (45%) of teens praised the longer period of training with an experienced driver.

Younger teens (age 13 to15) are most likely to say they approve of the GDL system (83%). Most driving-age teens (76%) also give it high ratings, although some may have complaints. Sarah, a 17-year-old high school junior from New Jersey, said "It's frustrating when you are all going to the same place and you can only drive one friend. It's a waste of time and gas. The worst part is you have to pick which of your friends you will take along and no matter who you choose, someone's feelings are hurt."

Hurt feelings will heal -- as most teens seem to recognize, the new law may prevent wounds that won't.

*The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute. 1996 – 2002.

**Findings are based on telephone interviews with a random national cross section of 454 American teen-agers, ages 13 to 17, conducted July through September 2001.

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