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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

Tough Rules on Teen Drivers May Not Be Effective, Study Says

A new study shows that tougher laws may reduce fatal crashes among new drivers, but don't necessarily keep older teens safe behind the wheel.

Tougher laws may not make for safer teen drivers, according to a new study published Wednesday by the American Medical Association. In fact, the effects may have backfired.

Photo courtesy Associated Press
Photo courtesy Associated Press

Using data from more than 131,000 fatal crashes involving teen drivers in all 50 states, researchers found that although fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers have decreased in the past 20 years, the number has risen for 18- to 19-year-olds.

"As I've gone farther away from my training, I've probably become less careful when I'm driving," USC Freshman Rosie Bearden said.

California's multi-step licensing program, one of the strictest in the nation, requires minors to obtain a 12-month provisional license that prohibits them from driving with passengers under 20 and from driving during late night hours before receiving a full license.

The research team compared data from from the years 1986 to 2007 and examined states with graduated licensing programs and those which had not yet adopted such programs. The team found that states with the most restrictive programs saw a 26 percent reduction in the rate of fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers, in comparison to states without any restriction.

However,  the rate of fatal crashes among 18- and 19-year-old drivers in strict states increased 12 percent in comparison to states without restrictions.

"The more you drive, the easier it is to forget the essentials and be more reckless," said USC junior Augusta Arader, who was cited Wednesday morning for driving through a crosswalk while pedestrians were crossing, talking on a cell phone and not wearing a seatbelt.

"It's good to get a ticket or reminder every now and then to keep you in check and make you more cognizant of what is around you," Arader said.  

Though some drivers, such as freshman Isabel Lee believe she is still a safe driver, she said she "definitely wouldn't want to take the [driving] test again."

The study accounted for other factors, including road safety, seatbelt refulations and allowable blood-alcohol levels.

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