I want to begin by saying that I’ve never been in a car accident. Even as a moronic teen driver, the worst I ever did was run my ’85 Honda Accord into a pole. (I don’t count that as an accident, because it did very little damage, and no other car was involved.)
I got my learner’s permit at age 15 and a half, my full driver’s license at age 16, and was driving a large delivery truck within weeks. From the day I turned 16 until the day I graduated, I filled my Accord (and sometimes my truck) with eight of my closest friends and drove them to school, toted them home, and then out to parties on Friday nights. All that, and never an accident (a miracle, considering my severe lack of seatbelt enforcement.)
Today, my state is one of many that follows a graduated licensing program, which at first I thought was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea. Why not just add more driver training? There was even a time I would have rather seen the driving age moved back to 18. But now I’ve changed my mind.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says over 6,000 young people, ages 15 to 20, died in motor vehicle crashes last year. This is due to a lack of experience and lower maturity levels.
With U.S. traffic accidents killing about 30,000 people per year and costing over $164 billion annually (or more than $1,000 per person), anything that can reduce the number of accidents has to be taken seriously.
There are three stages to a typical graduated licensing system:
- a supervised learner’s period
- an intermediate license (after passing the driver test) that limits driving in high-risk situations except under supervision
- a license with full privileges.
Each state has different requirements, which can be viewed at the IIHS website.
The commonality between states, though, is that graduated licensing practices do reduce the number of accidents, by about 10-30 percent. The best systems, according to the IIHS,
include a learner’s stage beginning at age 16 and lasting at least 6 months, 30 or more hours of supervised driving, plus restrictions on unsupervised night driving and passengers during the first 6 to 12 months of licensure. The nighttime driving restriction should start at 9 or 10 p.m., and no more than 1 teen passenger should be allowed any time of day.
Those are the kinds of rules that a parent will love and a teen will despise. If I was 16 today, I wouldn’t be able to fill my car with my friends until I was 18.
But here’s a possible side effect to that rule: If teens can’t take their friends to the movies in one car, are they taking four or five separate cars and drag racing along the way? I couldn’t find any research to answer that question and would like to get input from a teen driver or two. It almost seems like it would be safer and more environmentally responsible to let teens carry more passengers.
Regardless, I do think graduated licensing is a good idea. It seems to be effective and is a great compromise to implementing a driving age of 18.
Teens: What do you think of graduated licensing programs? How do you get around the one-passenger rule?
Does anyone wish graduated licensing rules were in effect when you were a new driver? I’m glad they weren’t… I wouldn’t have been nearly as popular!