WASHINGTON—Traffic crash and fatality rates for young drivers have improved drastically over the past two decades—even more so than for older drivers, according to a recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
“Young driver crash rates are nearly four times higher than that of older drivers per miles driven, but the good news is that we’re making progress,” said Pam Shadel Fischer, report author and GHSA senior director of external engagement, during an Oct. 31 GHSA webinar.
The Oct. 2023 report, “Young Drivers and Traffic Fatalities: 20 Years of Progress on the Road to Zero” defines young drivers as 20 years or younger and examined Fatality Analysis Reporting System data for 2002 through 2021.
The young driver crash fatality rate improved in all but three states and Washington, D.C. In Virginia, fatal crash involvement rates per 10,000 licensed drivers under 21 fell 37%.
Fatal crashes involving a young driver fell 38% while they increased nearly 8% for older drivers. At the same time, deaths of young drivers fell about 45% compared to an 11% increase in fatalities for older drivers.
“I believe that young drivers, more than any other age group out there, have the greatest potential for reaching this milestone of zero fatalities,” added Fischer. “But it’s going to take us doing more to get there.”
She outlined the policies and programs responsible for gains in teen driver safety, including Graduated Driver Licensing. This is a three-step system that includes a supervised learner’s period, an intermediate phase with restrictions for novice drivers and a license with all privileges.
“We know it’s the most effective tool we have in our toolbox for teen driver safety,” Fischer noted. “This three-step licensing process is really responsible for novice driver crash rates falling anywhere from 20-40%.”
Other effective tools include parent involvement, driver education, behind-the-wheel training, peer-to-peer traffic safety education programs and the emergence of safer vehicles and teen-specific technologies.
GHSA recommends building upon proven countermeasures, including strengthening GDL laws by raising the minimum permit age to 16 and intermediate licensure age to 17, and applying GDL laws to 18- to 20-year-olds. GHSA additionally recommends making driver education and training accessible to all.
Fischer added that parents and guardians “play a critical role” in their teen’s driver education and recommends building a parent education element into state licensing requirements.
Involved parents who set high expectations, as well as nurture their young drivers, will see their children more likely to drive safely at far greater rates than teens with permissive or uninvolved parents, according to research conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“The most effective safety feature in the vehicle is a safe and engaged driver,” added Mike Speck, lead instructor for the Ford Driving Skills for Life program. He encourages parents to remain involved with their teens throughout their learning process and strategize ways to enforce safe driving habits.
GHSA recommends incorporating more information on vehicle safety features into driver education programs.
For the full report, visit ghsa.org/resources/GHSA/young-drivers-spotlight-report23.
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