By Leigh Ann Pusey
Car accidents are the number one killer of teenagers in the United States.
Government data show that each day, more than ten teens are killed nationwide in a motor vehicle crash. Due to inexperience and bad habits, young drivers are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than any other age group, and the risk is highest during their first years of driving.
Now, a new teen driving act introduced in the U.S. Congress seeks to slow this dangerous trend and spare thousands of families the heartbreaking loss of a teenage child.
The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STAND UP) Act would set national standards for graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs, which have been proven to reduce deaths and injuries among the least experienced drivers.
GDL programs work by gradually easing restrictions on teen drivers as they gain more experience behind the wheel. Drivers must complete a three-step licensing process in which they spend a minimum of six months at the learner’s permit stage, followed by another six months with an intermediate license. Once drivers turn 18, they are awarded full driving privileges.
Research shows that states with strong GDL laws have seen as much as a 40 percent decrease in teen crashes, and the longer licensure is delayed, the better. If every state had strong GDL laws, 175 deaths and about 350,000 injuries could be prevented each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
GDL programs save lives because they target the key behaviors that raise crash risk among teenage drivers — speeding, nighttime driving, and distractions from peer passengers and cell phones.
While teens are still mastering the complexities of driving, GDL laws limit unsupervised driving hours and ban teens from using electronic devices such as cell phones or iPods when driving. And since young teens are the most vulnerable, GDL laws would raise the age at which drivers can get a learner’s permit from 14 or 15 in most states to 16.
The idea behind GDL laws is simple: Minimize risk while maximizing experience. With GDL programs, teens gain driving privileges commensurate with their developing skills and good judgment.
Although 49 states have some form of GDL, only a handful have comprehensive licensing systems – including appropriate nighttime and passenger restrictions – in place. The STAND UP Act would strengthen and improve existing laws – the same way earlier federal mandates increased seat-belt use and reduced drunken driving.
GDL proponents recognize that parents want to keep to their children safe on the road, but they also need flexibility to manage family schedules. That’s why the STAND UP Act makes exceptions for teens driving with an immediate family member under age 21 and for traveling to workplaces or school-sanctioned events – instances where teens are already less likely to engage in risky driving. The bill would also exempt most teens who work on family farms.
Thanks to the flexibility and protection GDL laws provide, numerous surveys show that parents strongly endorse the system. What’s surprising is that nearly 75 percent of teenagers support a comprehensive GDL law, according to a recent survey by the AllState Foundation. Even wider majorities of teens favor bans on texting (93 percent) and cell phone use (85 percent). Much like their elders, teens recognize the importance of sharing the road with responsible and experienced drivers.
We all know that teen crashes – and the tragic losses that result – are preventable. GDL laws are a proven, effective strategy for reducing risk to teens, their passengers, and others who share the road with them. Parents, teens, and lawmakers should “stand up” for national graduated driver licensing standards and ensure that the next generation of drivers is well-prepared for the serious responsibility of driving.
Leigh Ann Pusey is President and CEO of the American Insurance Association. This piece was originally published in PropertyCasualty360.com.