Teenage Drivers

Two out of five deaths among U.S. teens are the result of a motor vehicle crash (IIHS 2003).

So you just turned 16 and the only thing that matters in the world is DRIVING.

But, some changes in state laws could turn that green light red.

Graduated driver's licenses have been implemented by 30 states. GDL programs require young drivers to gain driving experience gradually over time. The GDL laws allow young drivers to improve their driving skills and restrict night-time driving, when most teenage driving accidents occur.

A driver's license in a typical GDL program can be obtained by the following steps:

  1. Learner's permit with a minimum holding period. Any alcohol related or traffic offense results in revocation, and seat belts must be worn.
  2. Provisional or intermediate license. The restrictions are generally the same as the learner's permit.
  3. Standard driver's license. This is usually issued after a specific period of driving with no major offenses and after a road test is passed.

Although no state has enacted all of the recommended components, Florida's law is considered the standard because it includes a six-month holding period for a learner's permit and night restrictions from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. for 16-year-olds and 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. for 17-year-olds.

These new restrictions may seem unfair to young drivers but there is a good reason for them. In fact, Florida's GDL law is credited with a 26 percent reduction in night crashes among 16-year-old drivers and a reduction of about 30 percent for 17-year-old drivers.

Other state measures aiding in the reduction of teenage driving accidents are changes to the legal blood alcohol content.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), all 50 states and the District of Columbia have set lower Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels for drivers under 21. In fact, all 50 states have also passed zero tolerance laws prohibiting teenagers from drinking and driving. Zero tolerance laws make it illegal for people under 21 to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system, defined as a BAC of .02 or less. The normal BAC level for adults is 0.08.

Several studies show conclusively that zero tolerance laws save lives. For example, Maryland's zero tolerance law produced an 11 percent decrease in the number of crashes involving drinking drivers under age 21. In four other states, the number of late night fatal crashes of young drivers dropped 34 percent after zero tolerance laws.

Nationwide, alcohol-related deaths among teens age 15 to 20 dropped five percent from 2,324 in 1996 to 2,209 in 1997. These decreases are a direct result of the new laws.

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