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Teen Drivers: CDC Activities & Programs 

At CDC’s Injury Center, we work to ensure everyone in the United States can live life to their fullest potential by translating science into effective programs and policies that prevent motor vehicle death and injuries and that minimize the consequences of injuries when they occur. Research provides the knowledge that we need to understand what is possible, what is not, and the best way to proceed in our intervention efforts.

Below are a few of our current research projects and programs:

Checkpoints Program: Improving Parental Management of the Learning–to–Drive Process

Researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute are extending their current research by implementing the Checkpoints Program, designed to improve parental management of the learning-to-drive process, in driver’s education classes. The Checkpoints Program was developed by the National Institutes of Health with some financial support from CDC. It is the only intervention of its type with proven efficacy in increasing parental restrictions on newly licensed teen drivers. The effectiveness of this intervention will be evaluated by measuring the level of restrictions that parents place on their teens as they move from learner’s permit to provisional license to full licensure. The number of violations and crashes among participating teens may also be measured.

Evaluating a Parent and Teen Driving Safety Program

Researchers at the University of Iowa are studying an educational intervention for parents of newly licensed teenaged drivers to increase parental involvement in teaching driving skills and safe driving behavior. The intervention group will receive a tailored, in–person intervention with a Traffic Safety Specialist, with follow-up intervention phone calls at one, three, and six months. The control group will be a "usual care" group who will receive driving safety materials available to all new drivers and their parents. Study findings will show if parents and teens report improved driving skills and behaviors in the intervention compared with the control group.

Community–based Intervention to Increase Seat Belt Use among Teens in Jackson, Mississippi

Meharry Medical College and Jackson State University are evaluating the independent and combined effects of a multi-faceted, community–wide campaign to increase seatbelt usage among adolescent motorists ages 15 to 19 in Jackson, Mississippi. The project aims are to: 1) evaluate the impact of a targeted, school–based, peer–to–peer, service learning intervention; 2) evaluate the impact of a comprehensive, community–based, educational and media campaign to increase youth awareness and usage of seat belts; and 3) compare study results with other secondary data sets that reflect changes in teen seat belt use rates.

Comprehensive Evaluation of Beginner Driver Education

Photo: Two teen boys leaning against a car

CDC is co–funding evaluation of three driver education programs in Oregon and Manitoba, Canada. The goals of the evaluation are to: generate new knowledge about the safety and operational effectiveness of driver education; provide new information about how to improve the delivery and content of driver education to enhance its safety impact; demonstrate implementation of the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety's comprehensive guidelines for evaluating driver education; and showcase more effective and constructive methods to evaluate driver education. The evaluation is being lead by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation and Northport Associates. Results are expected in 2009.

Reducing Youthful Dangerous Driving

The Injury Prevention Center at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence is conducting a study to test whether Reducing Youthful Dangerous Driving (RYDD) (trauma room exposure with motivational interviewing) in comparison to Prototypic Community Service (PCS) will change attitudes toward risky driving behaviors post treatment; reduce alcohol use and high–risk driving behaviors at 6 month follow-up; reduce driving offenses at 12 month follow-up; and reduce the number of MVCs at 24 month follow–up. Court–mandated youth (n=500) convicted of a high-risk driving offense are randomly assigned to one of two 16–hour program interventions (RYDD or PCS) and followed for one to two years. Subsequent infractions are measured through a combination of court records and self-report. To facilitate the dissemination of the RYDD program, the investigators will determine for whom it works best (Aim 2) and how it works (Aim 3) by examining a number of proposed mediators and moderators. Positive results from this study would be embraced by state and national leaders within the judicial and traffic safety communities and implemented in other courts to strengthen efforts to reduce MVCs among young drivers.

Behavioral Study to Reduce Youth DUI and Risky Driving

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is conducting two studies to gain insight into two factors that are associated with the underlying attitudes that lead to youth crash involvement: alcohol use (DUI) and risky behavior. While these two factors are neither mutually exclusive nor independent, the interventions to deal with them are quite distinct. For the first study–social and attitudinal influences on DUI–both norm and attitude accessibility will be evaluated for college students before and after exposure to persuasion methods successfully used by members of the research team in anti–smoking interventions. The goal is to generate new knowledge upon which an intervention will be based that will motivate young drivers to make firm transportation plans for getting home after their social activities and involve their peer group to make sure these plans are carried out.

In the second study, focus groups and phone surveys will be used to gain insight into the attitudes of 16– to 20–year–old drivers to assess their attitudes and normative beliefs that lead to risky driving. These will be followed by experimental tests of communications to change the accessibility of normative beliefs and attitudes, similar to that performed for the DUI study. The interventions will be oriented toward exploiting group dynamics as opposed to relying on individual education. In both the DUI and risk–taking studies, pilot tests of the interventions will be performed first in a laboratory and then in a real–world environment.

The International Symposium on Novice Teen Driving: GDL and Beyond

Photo: Father and daughter in car

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among U.S. teens, accounting for 36% of all deaths in this age group. One way to combat this problem is by implementing graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems, which are designed to help new drivers gain knowledge and experience under low–risk conditions.

To discuss the latest GDL research and other issues related to teen driver safety, the National Safety Council (NSC) held the International Symposium: Novice Teen Driving: GDL and Beyond, February 5–7, 2007 in Tucson, Arizona. Sponsors for this event included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the GEICO Foundation, Nationwide Insurance, General Motors Corporation, and State Farm Insurance.

The goal of the Symposium was to establish a vision for policy and practices to improve teen driving and current GDL systems. Scientists from the United States, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands presented research findings on teen driving performance, teen behaviors, effectiveness of GDL laws on crash reduction, the effects of parenting behaviors on teen driving safety, driver’s education and how GDL can be improved. Participants also identified states that have effectively implemented GDL systems and discussed ways to continue research on GDL systems in order to improve teen driver safety. More than 100 scientists, traffic safety advocates and state and federal officials attended.

Research suggests that the most comprehensive GDL systems are associated with a 38% reduction in fatal crashes, and a 40% reduction in injury crashes among drivers 16 years of age.

To help traffic safety and public health professionals as they work to keep teen drivers safe, NSC created fact sheets that summarize the current scientific information on GDL systems as presented at the Symposium. These fact sheets address the following topics:

  • Extended Learner’s Permit Holding Periods
  • Nighttime Driving Restrictions
  • Passenger Restrictions
  • Technology

In addition, proceedings of the symposium were published in a special April 2007 issue of the Journal of Safety Research, entitled, "Novice Teen Driving: GDL and Beyond: Research Foundations for Policy and Practice Symposium."

Workshop on Contributions from the Behavioral and Social Sciences in Reducing and Preventing Teen Motor Vehicle CrashesPreventing Teen Motor Crashes cover image

CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and State Farm Insurance Companies co–funded the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine to conduct a workshop to explore how the behavioral, cognitive, social, health, and biological sciences could inform prevention strategies to reduce motor vehicle crash rates and promote responsible behavior among teen drivers. The summary report can be found at this web page:* The American Journal of Preventive Medicine devoted a supplemental issue to the topic in 2008, which contains papers authored by the workshop presenters and members of the workshop committee and can be found at this web page:*

Facilitating Partnerships: Transportation and Health Sectors

In collaboration with CDC and other national partners and organizations, the State and Territorial Injury Prevention Directors Association (STIPDA) convened a roundtable meeting on teen driving safety on June 21–22, 2006. STIPDA assembled state injury prevention and transportation experts, researchers, and national agency representatives to discuss strategies to reduce teen motor vehicle crashes and resulting injuries and deaths. During this meeting, 12 state teams shared current activities, strengthened existing and developed new partnerships, and created draft action plans that will facilitate implementation of teen driver safety activities in their states. A final proceedings document, including recommendations and state team action plans, is available at STIPDA's website,* along with copies of the presentations.* Two follow–up webconferences for participating state teams to provide state action plan updates were held in January 2007. Educational webconferences on Graduated Driver Licensing and Formative Evaluation were also held in 2007. STIPDA is currently evaluating the impact of the roundtable on state planning for teen driver safety.

Effects of Graduated Driver Licensing on Hospitalization Rates and Charges for 16– and 17–year–olds in North Carolina

CDC and State Farm Insurance co–funded the University of North Carolina School of Public Health and the Highway Safety Research Center to study the effect of North Carolina’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) law on hospitalization rates and hospital costs for 16– and 17–year–old drivers. The North Carolina GDL program was associated with a marked decline in the rate of hospitalizations and hospital charges for 16–year–old drivers. Following the implementation of GDL, over $650,000 in hospital charges have been averted each year for 16–year–old drivers. Analyses suggest these reductions were mainly due to reduced exposure rather than driving improvement. For more information see "The Effects of Graduated Driver Licensing on Hospitalization Rates and Charges for 16–and 17–Year–Olds in North Carolina" in Traffic Injury Prevention, 2007;8(1):35–38.

Teen Safe Driving Campaign: Parents Are The Key

Talk to your teen about safe driving.

“Parents Are the Key" is a communications campaign that CDC developed to help inform parents across the nation about the key role they can—and should—play in protecting their teen drivers. Individuals and groups can use the “Parents Are the Key” campaign materials to help parents learn about the most dangerous driving situations for their young driver and how to avoid them. More information about the campaign and all of the campaign materials—including a parent-teen safe driving agreement, posters, fact sheets, video, social media tools, implementation guide, and more—are available at

Almost half of all black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children who died in crashes were not buckled up (2009-2010).
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