(LOS ANGELES, Feb. 27, 2009) - While graduated driver licensing laws nationwide are estimated to have saved hundreds of lives by reducing the number of teen driver crashes, a new analysis of teen crash data by the Automobile Club of Southern California and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that teen drivers continue to pose significant risks, particularly to others on the road.
The new report, "Teen Crashes-Everyone is at Risk," looks at the change in teen driver deaths over the past 10 years - the period when most states were enacting graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws. From 1998 through 2007, young drivers, ages 15-17, killed in teen driver crashes dropped by 27 percent (from 1,134 to 823).
"The drop suggests the effectiveness of the GDL laws over that time period and underscores the positive link between teen driver safety and everyone's safety on the road. This should be a clear signal to parents to reinforce and follow GDL along with their teen," said Steven A. Bloch, Ph.D., the Auto Club's senior research associate. "That's especially significant because crashes of older drivers weren't declining nearly as quickly as those of younger drivers."
The report goes on to demonstrate the effect that the decline in fatal teen crashes has on road users other than teen drivers over the 10 years. The foundation study found that there were 540 fewer deaths of other people in the teen driver crashes. "That's saving 540 lives of passengers of teen drivers, occupants of other vehicles involved in teen driver crashes and of non-motorists-all of whom might have been killed if young driver crashes had continued at the same level throughout the last decade," said Bloch.
But even with the life-saving provisions of graduated driver licensing, vehicle passengers and other motorists continue to be the most likely victims in teen driver crashes. Nationally, 63 percent of the 28,138 fatalities in teen driver crashes between 1998 and 2007 were either passengers, other drivers or non-motorists, who amounted to 17,750 victims. Just 37 percent, or 10,388 persons, who were killed in teen crashes, were the teen driver.
California teen crash statistics also show a reduction in teen driver deaths after graduated driver licensing, but a continued high percentage of fatalities occurring to people other than the teen driver. Statewide, teen drivers killed in crashes dropped by 13.3 percent. Teen driver crashes killed 1,855 people, of whom just 29 percent (542) were teen drivers themselves. The remaining 70 percent (1,743) included 631 passengers, 463 occupants of other vehicles operated by adult drivers, and 219 non-motorists and others. "The foundation study in teen driver fatal crashes meant that 25 teen drivers and others were also saved," said Bloch.
An Auto Club analysis shows that teen drivers ages 16-19 make up about 4 percent of California's driving population, but are at fault in about 14 percent of all fatal and injury crashes. "Those figures don't include that teens drive only about half as many miles as older drivers," said Bloch.
California made its 1998 Graduated Driver License law even tougher in 2007. The law requires teen drivers under age 18 to have their license for one year before being allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., or before being allowed to transport passengers under age 20 without an adult in the car.
The Auto Club strongly encourages parents to play the leading role in developing their teen drivers' skills through modeling safe driving, selecting a quality driving school, using a parent-teen driving contract, extensive practice driving and following the state's GDL provisions, said Kathy Downing, manager of the Auto Club Driving School that serves teens in 18 Auto Club office locations around Southern California.
"These grim statistics illustrate why parents and teens need to adhere to the GDL law's restrictions and parents need to set strict driving rules for their teens," said Downing. "Parents should be clear where, with whom, when, and under what weather and road conditions teens drive."
"There's no magic age or number of months driving that must pass to make teens safe drivers. Only parents, after consistent involvement with their teens' driving, can help make that determination," Downing added. "Parents should consider increasing driving privileges only when their new driver has gained experience and maturity needed to accept additional driving responsibilities."
The new report by the AAA Foundation is based on analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data on fatal motor vehicle crashes.
Details about the California's Graduated Driver License (GDL) can be found in the Auto Club's Graduated Driver License brochure, "A Guide to California's Graduated Driver License," available at Auto Club offices throughout Southern California, by going to www.AAA.com, or by calling 1-800-541-5552. The brochure is available in English and Spanish.