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Status Report, Vol. 47, No. 8 | October 25, 2012 Subscribe

Graduated licensing benefits older beginners in Australia

License restrictions are known to reduce crashes among 16-17-year-old drivers in the United States. Now a study of recent changes to graduated licensing in Victoria, Australia, shows they can be effective for newly licensed 18-20 year-olds, too.

The study, commissioned by VicRoads, the state agency in charge of licensing, found that after the changes, injury crashes fell 23 percent for 18-20 year-olds in their first year of probationary driving when measured against a control group of 26-38-year-old drivers. Fatal and serious injury crashes fell 31 percent.

A would-be driver must be at least 16 years old to get a learner's permit in Victoria and at least 18 to obtain a probationary, or intermediate, license. In 2007 and 2008 the requirements and restrictions accompanying each stage were beefed up.

The first set of changes, which went into effect in July 2007, required young drivers to hold their permits for a year and obtain 120 hours of supervised driving experience before applying for a probationary license. Also at that time, probationary drivers were barred from driving high-powered vehicles such as those with eight-cylinder engines.

Then, in July 2008, the probationary period was increased from three to four years. Additional restrictions were put in place for the first year of the probationary license, known as the P-1 phase. They included a ban on all cellphone use, including hands-free, and a limit of one passenger between the ages of 16 to 21. Drivers were required to maintain a good driving record in order to graduate from P-1 to P-2, which lasts the remaining three years. In addition, a new road test was introduced for obtaining a P-1 license, with the aim of better evaluating driving skills.

In addition to the crash reductions in the first year of probationary driving, the report's authors found similar decreases in the second year as a result of the changes, though not as large.

Young drivers also were surveyed about their behaviors as part of the evaluation. After the restrictions were strengthened, probationary drivers were less likely to say they drove with more than one 16-21-year-old passenger and reported fewer traffic offenses and less cellphone use.

Victoria's graduated licensing system is in many ways stricter than anything in place in the United States. The current best practices here are a minimum permit age of 16 (eight states and the District of Columbia), at least 65 supervised practice hours (Pennsylvania), a minimum intermediate license age of 17 (New Jersey), a night driving restriction starting at 8 p.m. during the intermediate stage (Idaho and South Carolina) and in 15 states and D.C., a ban on all teen passengers (see "How to make young driver laws even better," May 31, 2012).

Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute has shown that the stronger the graduated licensing provisions, the bigger the reductions in crashes and fatal crashes (see Status Report special issue: teenage drivers, May 7, 2009). Although the exact provisions of Victoria's law aren't identical to those familiar in the U.S., this study shows that tougher rules can drive down teen crash rates even under a higher minimum licensing age.

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