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Old October 3rd, 2001, 22:29
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Teens benefit from driving restrictions

Programs Reduce Teen Driving Accidents Wires
Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001

CHICAGO -- Two new studies conclude programs that require 16-year-olds to initially drive only with adult supervision and then with nighttime restrictions result in fewer crashes and deaths in the age group at highest risk for accidents.
The most common cause of death among teenagers in the United States is motor vehicle accidents and 16-year olds are involved in 43 percent more accidents per mile driven than 17-year-olds, 2.7 times as many as 18-year-olds and 3.9 times more than 19- and 20-year-old drivers.

The studies, "Graduated driver licensing in Michigan," and "Initial effects of graduated driver licensing on 16-year-old driver crashes in North Carolina," appear in the Oct. 3 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In North Carolina, accident rates remain high, but requiring 15- to 17-year-olds to drive with a designated adult for a full year and then only between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. for another six months, reduced fatal crashes by 57 percent.

A Michigan program saw a 31 percent reduction in fatal accidents. The state now requires drivers under 17 to drive with an adult for six months and then between midnight and 6 a.m. only when accompanied by an adult for another six months.

The reductions, however, may simply be due to a drop in total mileage driven by 16-year-olds. The Michigan study authors point out data comparing total mileage driven by 16-year-olds before and after the programs does not exist.

Nighttime accidents for 16-year-olds decreased 53 percent in Michigan and 43 percent in North Carolina, as did nonfatal crashes for cars driven by 16-year-olds.

The programs, called graduated driver licensing, have been adopted by 43 states since the mid-1990s. A three-stage system is used by 34 states and guidelines vary considerably from state to state. Fourteen states do not allow teenagers without full, unrestricted licenses to have teenagers as passengers.

Robert D. Foss lead author of the North Carolina study told United Press International the prohibition against driving between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. itself reduced crashes by 43 percent.

"Most states have put their nighttime restriction at midnight or later. By doing that their restriction is not really protecting the beginning drivers during the time when they're at greatest risk," he said. Foss is a research scientist at the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jean T. Shope, lead author of the Michigan study, said parents can play a big role, whether they live in a state with a graduated license program or not.

"What I'd like people to realize is the important role of parents and the role they play with their youngster gaining experience driving under lower risk conditions before they drive under higher risk conditions, which is what graduated driver licensing programs promote," she told UPI. Shope is a researcher of health behavior and health education at Michigan University's School of Public Health in Ann Arbor.

Ann McCartt, a highway safety researcher at Preusser Research Group in Trumbull, Conn., praised both studies.

McCartt, whose editorial accompanies the JAMA article, told UPI researchers now want to know what precise parts of these GDL systems are producing what look like very positive changes.

Thomas Rice, an injury epidemiologist involved in evaluating California's graduated driver license programs, is enthusiastic about the two studies.

"They're important because they clarify just how important graduated licensing can be in reducing crash occurrence among young drivers. And that's really what we've been waiting for," he said.

Rice is a researcher at the Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and located at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health.

The studies, "Graduated driver licensing in Michigan," and "Initial effects of graduated driver licensing on 16-year-old driver crashes in North Carolina," appear in the Oct. 3 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

reprinted with permission
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