February 28, 2005

16-year-olds crashing less in some provinces and states

Arlington, Virginia – According to a report released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the fatal crash rate for 16-year-old drivers declined sharply after some U.S. states and Canadian provinces began enacting graduated licensing laws in the 1990s. Fatal crashes among 16-year-olds fell 26 per cent during the decade 1993 to 2003. The overall number decreased from 1,084 in 1993 to 938 in 2003, despite an 18 per cent increase in the number of 16-year-olds during the decade.

Provinces named in the Institute’s report were British Columbia, with a 16 per cent crash reduction in the period studied, and Nova Scotia, with 23 to 37 per cent.

Susan Ferguson, Insurance Institute senior vice president for research, warns that the report focuses on the status of 16-year-olds in states both with and without graduated licensing, and is not a study of graduated licensing per se. “Still, the study does reveal some very positive effects of the new licensing systems,” she says. “In time we do expect to see a drop in the fatal crash rates per licensed 16-year-old driver. This will happen if more states implement stronger restrictions on night driving and on passengers in cars with beginning drivers.”

Teenagers have the highest crash risk of any age group, about four times higher than for older drivers. They are also more likely than older drivers to be in crashes involving driver error and speeding.

An important finding of the study is that restrictions on 16-year-olds did not simply shift the crash risk to older teens. Crash rates dropped 11 per cent for 17-year-olds and 6 per cent for 18- and 19-year-olds. The most dangerous scenario is when a teenage driver transports other teens and, on a per capita basis, this type of crash declined 39 per cent during the decade studied. Most other characteristics of the 16-year-olds’ crashes stayed the same.

Fully graduated licensing laws have three stages: a supervised learner’s period; an intermediate licence limiting unsupervised driving in high-risk situations, including driving at night and transporting teenage passengers; and finally a licence with full privileges once the first two stages have been completed.

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