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Tracking progress in teenage driver crash risk in the United States since the advent of graduated driver licensing programs

McCartt, Anne T.; Teoh, Eric R.
Journal of Safety Research
June 2015

Introduction: This study examined U.S. teenagers' crash rates since 1996, when the first graduated driver licensing (GDL) program in the United State was implemented.
Methods: Passenger vehicle driver crash involvement rates for 16–19 and 30–59 (middle-aged) year-olds were examined, using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, National Automotive Sampling System General Estimates System, Census Bureau, and National Household Travel Surveys.
Results: Per capita fatal and police-reported crash rates in 2012 were lower for 16 year-olds than for middle-aged drivers but older teenagers' rates were higher. Mileage-based fatal and police-reported crash rates in 2008 were higher for teenagers than for middle-aged drivers and higher for 16–17 year-olds than for older teenagers. In 1996–2012, teenagers' per capita fatal and police-reported crash rates declined sharply, especially for 16–17 year-olds, and more so than for middle-aged drivers. Substantial declines also occurred in teenagers' mileage-based fatal and police-reported crash rates from 1995–96 to 2008, generally more so than for middle-aged drivers. Regarding factors in fatal crashes in 1996 and 2012, proportions of young teenagers' crashes occurring at night and with multiple teenage passengers declined, more so than among older teenagers and middle-aged drivers. The proportion of fatally injured drivers who had been drinking declined for teenagers but changed little for middle-aged drivers. Improvements were not apparent in rates of driver errors or speeding among teenage drivers in fatal crashes.
Conclusions: Teenage drivers' crash risk dropped during the period of implementation of GDL laws, especially fatal crash types targeted by GDL. However, teenagers' crash risk remains high, and important crash factors remain unaddressed by GDL.
Practical applications: Although this study was not designed to examine the role of GDL, the results are consistent with the increased presence of such laws. More gains are achievable if states strengthen their laws.