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Despite restrictions, teens still dying on highways
Scripps Howard News Service


June 30, 2005

WASHINGTON - Graduated licenses and other restrictions on teen drivers in the past decade have failed to decrease fatal highway crashes involving young people, according to government statistics.

While drivers ages 16 to 20 make up 6 percent of all drivers on U.S. highways, statistics show they are involved in 20 percent of all fatal motor-vehicle accidents. In 2003, younger drivers were involved in 8,455 fatal crashes.

Susan Ferguson, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said restrictions on novice drivers aren't resulting in the lower fatal-accident rates that safety advocates expected when many states shifted to graduated licenses for teenagers over the last decade.

Graduated licenses extend the learning period for novice drivers by giving probationary licenses requiring that they be accompanied by adults while driving, or restricting night driving.

"We have seen some reductions in fatal accidents, but they're not the panacea some people thought they would be," Ferguson said. "We have got to look at other potential solutions."

Insurance Institute studies conclude that teen drivers have the highest fatal-crash risk of any age group and, on the basis of miles traveled, the highest involvement in all types of crashes, including those that are fatal. The problem is worst among 16-year-olds. High speed and driver error are often listed as the causes of the crashes.

The National Safety Council and a physician-led group called End Needless Death On Our Roadways this week unveiled a campaign to get parents more involved in putting further restrictions on when teenagers can use a car.

"Sometimes you can't legislate all of the changes you need," said Andrea Barthwell, co-director of the physician-led group. She said parents have to be brought into the campaign against risky driving because they are often the only ones who know they have risk- and thrill-taking kids.

Barthwell said parents need to greater restrict their children's driving practices, and the group recommends that parents not let their children drive without at least 30 to 50 practice hours of adult-supervised driving, a six-month period for holding a learner's permit and no unsupervised driving between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. for those under age 18. Advocates also want parents to withhold a license if their young adult uses alcohol at all, and to require seat-belt use.

Barthwell, formerly deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said she imposed such restrictions on her 16-year-old daughter this year, even though her home state of Illinois doesn't have such stringent limits.

Since graduated licensing was recommended by the National Highway Transportation Safety Board in 1995, many states have embraced some aspects of it. States have recognized that novice drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes than those with more experience, and some set up a two-year process of learner permits, supervised driving and limited driving before full licenses are given.

Thomas Esposito, director of Loyola University Medical Center's Injury Analysis and Prevention Program, said physicians are seeing too many young drivers in emergency rooms, and "many of these fatalities and serious injuries could have been prevented."

"Youth driving fatalities are an epidemic in the United States," Esposito said.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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