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Research Update: Reducing Motor Vehicle Crashes Among Young Drivers

Simons–Morton B, Hartos J, editors. Reducing young driver crash risk: Proceedings of an expert conference on young drivers. Injury Prevention 2002;8(Suppl II):ii1–ii38.

Motor vehicle-related injuries are the biggest health threat to teenagers in the United States, accounting for two of five deaths among teens ages 16 to 19 years. The crash risk is highest for drivers 16 years of age due to their immaturity and limited driving experience. A series of five research papers published in a September 2002 supplement of Injury Prevention address reducing the crash risk among young drivers. The papers make a compelling case for graduated driver licensing (GDL), the system of laws and practices that gradually introduce young drivers into the driving population.

A summary of the supplement appears below. Injury Prevention subscribers can access the full online supplement.

  • Traditional driver education is insufficient for reducing the high risk of teen crashes (Mayhew & Simpson, pp. ii3–ii8).
    Most traditional driver education provides classroom training about the rules of the road and a few hours of behind-the-wheel training. Research suggests that this approach is not effective in reducing the crash risk among newly-licensed teen drivers. Driver education programs may be improved by teaching psychomotor, perceptual, and cognitive skills that are critical for safe driving, and by addressing inexperience, risky behaviors, and other age-related factors that increase the crash risk among young drivers. However, more research into these factors is needed before they can be addressed effectively.
  • Important risk factors highlight the need for graduated driver licensing (Williams & Ferguson, pp. ii9–ii16).
    Young, beginning drivers have an extremely high crash risk. Certain situations contribute to even greater risk, most notably nighttime driving and driving with teen passengers. The GDL approach addresses the high risks faced by young drivers by requiring an apprenticeship of planned and supervised practice, followed by a provisional license that places temporary restrictions on unsupervised driving in some higher-risk situations.
  • Developmental characteristics of young drivers may contribute to their crash risk (Arnett, pp. ii17–ii23).
    Inexperience increases the crash risk for new drivers of all ages. However, younger novice drivers crash at higher rates than older novice drivers. These higher crash rates may be due in part to developmental factors such as peer influence, poor perception of risk, and high emotionality. Research about such developmental characteristics could increase our understanding about why young drivers have higher crash rates and could help to improve driver education programs and licensing policies.
  • Greater parental involvement is needed (Simons-Morton et al., pp. ii24–31). 
    A growing body of research indicates that close parental management of teen drivers can lead to less risky driving behavior, fewer traffic tickets, and fewer crashes. However, many parents tend to be less involved than they could be. A recent study indicates that parents can be motivated to increase restrictions on their newly-licensed teens, at least during the critical first few months of licensure. A model intervention, the Checkpoint Program, led to increased parental limits on teenage driving at licensure and three months after licensure.
  • GDL works (McKnight & Peck, pp. ii32–ii38).
    GDL has consistently proven effective in reducing new driver crash risk. While research is still needed to better understand which components of GDL are essential, it remains a promising solution for improving teen driver safety. It may also provide the best context for improving driver education and increasing parental involvement, both of which could also reduce the crash risk for teen drivers.
Almost half of all black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children who died in crashes were not buckled up (2009-2010).
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