Arlington, Virginia – A new report by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that licensing drivers at later ages would substantially reduce crashes involving teenage drivers. The report was released at the annual meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The report said that the same conclusion has been reached in other countries; teenagers in Great Britain and most Australian states can’t get their licenses until they turn 17, while in most European Union countries the minimum age is 18. In Canada, the minimum ages range from age 16, through various months to age 17. In most U.S. states a driver must be a minimim of 16 years old, but teenagers in Idaho and Montana can be 15; in Mississippi, New Mexico and South Carolina they can be licensed at 15.5 years; and in South Dakota, teenagers can be 14 years and three months.

Legislation has been introduced during the most recent sessions in Delaware, Florida and Georgia to adopt 17 as the minimum age; one bill in Massachusetts also proposed 17, while another in Massachusetts and one in Illinois proposed raising the age to 18. None have met with any success.

“This is a tough sell, but it’s an important enough issue to challenge the silence and at least consider changing the age at which we allow teenagers to get their licenses to drive,” said Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice-president for research. “After all, graduated licensing has been successful ever since states began to adopt these programs more than a decade ago, and raising the licensing age is the next logical step to reduce driving by the riskiest motorists on the road, the youngest one.”

The graduated system in most U.S. states include permit periods, and then limit when and with whom young beginners may drive. The system has lowered the crash rates in states where it has been applied.

The study cites Australian and Canadian research into crash statistics by age. Researchers in Victoria, Australia studied the potential effects of lowering the limit from age 18 to 17 and concluded that it would result in 650 to 700 more crash injuries per year, and 30 to 50 more crashes involving deaths; Victoria retained its licensing age of 18. A 1992 Canadian study that divided drivers by age 16, 17 and 18, according to whether they had been driving less or more than a year, found that 16-year-olds, particularly girls, had higher rates of injury crashes than older teenagers who were also new to driving.

“Apart from the effects of age or experience, delaying driver licensure reduces crash rates by reducing the amount young people drive,” McCartt said.

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