Study shows graduated driver’s license law achieves drastic drop in injuries to 16 year olds

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With traffic crashes the leading cause of death for U.S. teens – accounting for one in three teen deaths – many states have adopted “graduated driver’s license” laws that tighten up requirements for teen-age drivers.

A study conducted by a researcher at the West Virginia University Injury Control Research Center shows that 16-year-old drivers are much less likely to be injured when such laws are in place. The study is published in the May issue of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

“At 16, you don’t have the experience necessary to safely operate a vehicle without supervision and, therefore, driving speed, cell phones and immaturity increase the crash risk,” said Motao Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor and researcher in the WVU Department of Community Medicine. 

Dr. Zhu and colleagues at Columbia University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed data from 55 counties in upstate New York, comparing the years 2001 and 2005. New York’s laws, similar to those in other states, put restrictions on cell phone use, nighttime driving hours and numbers of passengers. Full driving privileges are available only as teens develop driving expertise.

While the injury rate of passengers as well as pedestrians and bicyclists stayed the same, the driver injury rate among 16 year olds registered a 31 percent decrease, the researchers said. Other age groups studied showed no decrease.

“The other benefit of graduated driver’s license laws, in addition to the reduction in driver injury rate, is that teens who can’t drive without supervision are more likely to use alternate forms of transportation, such as biking, walking and public transportation,” Zhu said.

In 2001, West Virginia implemented its graduated driver’s license program. Teens can get a learner’s permit at age 15 but are subject to supervision and other restrictions. Restrictions are eased at age 16, but only older teens can drive unsupervised between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

In 2007, West Virginia added a cell phone prohibition to drivers in the learner and intermediate stages.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funded the research. Zhu worked at the New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Injury Prevention at the time the study was conducted. The study’s other authors are Haitao Chu, M.D., Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Guohua Li, M.D., Dr.PH, Columbia University.



For more information:
Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
asj: 04-22-09

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