- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Laws that impose restrictions on teenage drivers have succeeded in curtailing serious car accidents, recent scientific studies say.
According to the collection of a dozen studies, published in the current edition of the Journal of Safety Research, states can reduce risk to teenage drivers by giving them full driving privileges over a period of time with graduated driver licensing.
GDL laws enable young drivers to develop skills on the road by restricting them from unsupervised night driving and driving with teenage passengers, two things researchers say are particularly dangerous for new drivers.
"We know now, and we have the evidence, that GDL can be and is successful," said Chuck Hurley, vice president of the Transportation Safety Group at the National Safety Council.
For example, researchers said that after California implemented GDL in 1998, there was a 23 percent reduction in fatal crashes among 16-year-olds and a 40 percent reduction in teen-passenger deaths or injuries.
The National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization that seeks to implement safety and health policies, will distribute copies of the Journal of Safety Research to more than 450 state legislative leaders in all 50 states to convince them of the need to implement GDL laws.
According to the research, one in five 16-year-old drivers experiences a collision in the first year on the road, with the crash rate highest in the first month after receiving a license. The crash risk among 16-year-old drivers is almost three times as high as among more experienced 18- and 19-year-old drivers.
The studies showed that having one teen passenger in the car increases crash risk by 50 percent and that with three or more teen passengers, the crash risk is nearly four times as high as when a teenager is driving alone.
Nighttime driving is another danger. Fatal crash risks for 16- and 17-year-old drivers are nearly three times as high between 10 p.m. and midnight than during day and early-evening hours.
GDL allows students to learn to drive with supervised practice, followed by an intermediate license restricting high-risk situations such as night driving and carrying other teens.
Restrictions are removed step by step as the young drivers improve their abilities on the road and earn full driving privileges. Exemptions are frequently made to accommodate driving needs for jobs, religious activities and family situations.
The District and 34 states, including Maryland and Virginia, have some form of GDL law on the books. But some critics say many of them are inadequate.
"Unfortunately, some GDL legislation is in name only and fails to incorporate what are clearly effective elements of a system," said Herb Simpson, president of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in Ottawa, Canada's capital. "Obtaining a driver's license is a virtual rite of passage for many teens and their families, and legislators are hesitant to enact laws that delay or restrict that event."
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit group that publishes research on motor vehicle crashes, gave the District high marks for its GDL program, which restricts both unsupervised night driving and passenger privileges until age 18.
Virginia received high marks for having similar restrictions. Maryland's program was rated "acceptable."
Maryland requires 40 hours of supervised driving and some nighttime restrictions but places no prohibition on teens transporting their peers.


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