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Teen driver restrictions said to be working

I spent a good part of yesterday tracking down statistics on teen drivers after getting word about a car crash Monday night in Anne Arundel County that involved a 16-year-old driver.

Police say the teen driver had three teen-age passengers and a 22-year-old. According to county police, the driver struck a pedestrian, blew through a stop sign, hit some shrubs and finally a tree. Amazingly, no one died in the crash. Alcohol wasn't believed to be a factor, but speed was a "major factor," police said. (Read Nicole Fuller's and my article in today's paper for more details).

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Not surprisingly, I came across study after study that said the same thing -- teen drivers pose considerable risks on the road. Drivers 16 to 19 remain four times more likely than older drivers to be involved in a crash and, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Web site, the risk is highest for 16-year-olds.

Teens have long been considered among the highest-risk drivers, prompting many states, including Maryland, to come up with ways to curb crash rates.

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But I was intrigued by a national survey that recently credited programs that grant driver privileges in stages with reducing teen-related car crashes. These so-called "graduated driver licensing" programs typically limit the number of non-family passengers that young drivers are allowed to carry and include nighttime driving restrictions. Maryland's youngest drivers must pass through three stages -- learner's permit, provisional license and full driver's license.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's study, released in June, found that between 1996 and 2005, fatal and police-reported crashes fell 40 percent among 16-year-olds, 25 percent among 17-year-olds and about 15 percent to 19 percent for 18-year-olds.

Fairley Mahlum, a spokeswoman for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said that group likewise has found a connection between graduated driver licensing programs and reduced crash risks. She said restrictions such as limiting passengers for young drivers are proving to be effective.

"When young drivers are driving, we found that it's extremely dangerous to have young passengers in the car," she said.

The foundation's study revealed that states with more restrictions on young drivers saw the sharpest declines in teen crash rates.

The AAA foundation also found motor vehicle crashes are the primary cause of death among teens, with about 1,000 16-year-old drivers killed each year. The group concluded that 30 percent of fatal crashes involving a 16- or 17-year-old driver happened between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Teens, parents, teachers -- what do you make of Maryland's graduated driver licensing program? Does your experience match with what these driver safety groups have found? What more, if anything, needs to be done to help keep teens -- and the rest of us -- safe on the road??


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