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Law May Be Delaying Necessary Driver Training, Causing Accidents

10/4/2013 12:00am

In theory, graduated driver licensing laws will help teens develop the skills they need to be safe drivers by restricting situations that are commonly associated with car accidents. In practice, the laws may be causing teens to forgo getting a license until they turn 18 and are no longer subject to the applicable restrictions. The result is a sharp rise in the number of fatal car accidents suffered by 18-year-olds. Some legislators are concerned that too many drivers are obtaining licenses without getting the training and experience they need to operate a vehicle safely.

Studies have shown that a smaller percentage of 16-year-olds are getting their driver's licenses than in the past. While some point to a troubled economy or the rise of digital means of interaction as reasons for the drop, some believe that graduated licensing laws are at least partly to blame. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked a decrease in the number of fatal crashes among teens under 18 since the enactment of graduated licensing laws in California and many other states, but it has coincided with the aforementioned rise in such accidents among 18-year-olds. There is still a gap, however, as fatal accidents among 16-year-olds dropped 26 percent from 1988 to 2007 and fatal accidents among 18-year-olds rose by 12 percent in the same time period.

The problem is really how to deal with inexperienced drivers. While it could be argued that an 18-year-old is more physically and emotionally equipped to be a safe, there is nothing that can replace the value of experience. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is aware of the problem and has recommended that the graduated licensing process should apply to any new driver under the age of 21.