The youngest new drivers are typically thought to have the highest crash rates among teens, but some 16- and 17-year-olds may be safer drivers than 18-year-olds. Teen drivers who received their licenses before age 18 and who participated in mandatory driver education, behind-the-wheel training and graduated driver licensing (GDL) restrictions were better prepared and less likely to crash than 18-year-old drivers who did not go through the same standardized preparation.
Those are the main findings of a new study released on Monday by the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) that supports reevaluating licensing policies in all states in order to reduce teen crashes.
“Unlike conventional thinking, this study shows that we should not assume that the youngest new drivers will have the highest crash rates,” Elizabeth Walshe, the study’s lead author and a research scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, said in a statement.
Graduated driver licensing phases in driving privileges by monitoring conditions in which teenagers learn to drive, like imposing restrictions on teen passengers and nighttime driving, and determining the number of hours of supervised practice required before full licensure.
“License Examination and Crash Outcomes Post-Licensure in Young Drivers: Do the Youngest Drivers Crash the Most?,” published online by the journal JAMA Network Open, suggested that when education and training are required, the youngest drivers are better prepared for their licensing exams and less likely to crash.
In other words, states with robust graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs may be better at keeping kids safe than states with weak programs.
“With comprehensive licensing requirements, these younger drivers can perform better than older novice drivers who are exempt from these requirements,” Dr. Walshe added. “All novice drivers need the proper training that leads to developing the critical driving skills needed to avoid crashes.”
The study’s researchers noted that prior studies have shown that the youngest drivers are much more likely to crash in their first year of driving. In addition, the effectiveness of behind-the-wheel training and whether it reduces young driver crashes as intended has been questioned for decades.
To address those concerns, the researchers analyzed 2018 data from Ohio, a state that requires supervised driver training in addition to other GDL restrictions for drivers licensed before age 18, but not for drivers 18 and older. They compared license applicants in the state between the ages of 16 and 24 with crash outcome data from up to one year after licensure for close to 130,000 drivers.
Drivers who were licensed at age 18, making them exempt from comprehensive licensing requirements, had the highest crash rates in the first year of licensure of all those licensed under the age of 25, according to the study; 16-year-old license applicants performed best of all those licensed under age 25 on the on-road license examination.
Researchers found that for every month in the learner permit stage of licensure, there was a 2% reduction in crash rates.
Only 15 states have comprehensive licensing requirements that include behind-the-wheel training at a licensed driving school along with other methods like classroom or online instruction, parent-supervised practice driving, and learner permit holding periods. In states with graduated driver licensing (GDL) restrictions but no professional behind-the-wheel training requirements, the youngest novice drivers have the highest crash rates, researchers said.
“Our findings in Ohio, along with other recent studies, suggest a need to re-examine licensing requirements to ensure that drivers are prepared to drive safely,” Flaura Winston, a co-author of the study and co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, said in a statement.
The importance of making comprehensive training more affordable was also addressed in the study.
“Currently, only 15 states mandate behind-the-wheel training, and in those states that do, the cost can be prohibitive. We need to consider making this training available and affordable for all,” Dr. Winston said.
To access the study, click here.