Fewer Hours Can Lower Teen Crash Rates

Limiting the hours teens can drive and the number of people riding with them can reduce crash rates among young motorists by 20 percent, according to a study of drivers in Canada and Oregon.

Researchers with the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in Ottawa, Canada, compared accidents involving 16-year-old drivers in Oregon and Ontario in 2002. Oregon restricted unsupervised nighttime driving and the number of passengers while Ontario did not carry the prohibitions at the time.

Crashes involving injuries and deaths were 20 percent fewer among the teen drivers in Oregon, offering evidence that strong graduated drivers licensing programs can make a difference.

"Teens who obey traffic rules and regulations, follow GDL regulations, and have actively involved parents are much less likely to crash," said J. Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which sponsored the study.

Traffic accidents kill about 6,000 motorists between the ages of 16 to 20 every year, making them the leading cause of death for teens. Safety experts say young drivers are more prone to crashes because they lack experience and driving skills.

States have enacted licensing laws that put limits on new drivers, but the rules vary from state to state and some are considered less stringent than others. Researchers said Oregon was representative of a state with strong GDL laws while Ontario was considered to have much weaker laws.

Dan Mayhew, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation's vice president, said the findings, based on police-reported crash data, suggest that "the restrictions placed in Oregon are effective in keeping the crash rates down."

Oregon prohibits unsupervised driving between midnight and 5 a.m. for entry-level drivers and prevents drivers from having passengers under age 20 during the first six months of receiving a driver's license.

In a separate study, researchers conducted phone interviews with 1,000 teens and their parents in Oregon and British Columbia who had crashed and who had not crashed during their limited time behind the wheel.

Researchers found that 30 percent of teens who had not been involved in a crash had never violated the passenger restrictions during the first six months of the intermediary stage, which has a minimum age of 16.

Sixteen percent of teens who had crashed told the researchers they never violated the rules during the same period.

The research also showed that teens who had crashed were more likely to violate traffic laws. In Oregon, 33 percent of teens who crashed said they had received a traffic ticket compared with 13 percent of ticketed teens who had not crashed.

Mayhew said the GDL laws are "not a panacea" but serve as an effective tool in reducing accidents among young drivers.