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Teen Crashes Cost $2.8 Billion To Californians

(LOS ANGELES, April 4, 2008) -- A first-ever analysis from AAA finds that crashes involving teen drivers ages 15 to 17 cost $2.8 billion annually in California and more than $34 billion a year nationwide. The “cost to society” estimate includes medical expenses, the cost of lost work, property damage, quality of life loss and other related expenses in 2006.
California’s cost was calculated based on the 66,785 crashes that occurred in 2006, which included 177 fatalities and 27,869 injuries.

“The impact of a teen crash goes beyond individual and family tragedies and physical injury in the crash aftermath, with costs that can extend to employers, families, the government and society,” said Steve Finnegan, the Automobile Club of Southern California’s manager for government affairs. “These figures provide important reasons for legislators to improve graduated driver licensing in their states – a proven measure to reduce the deadly toll of teen driver crashes.”

Comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems ease teens into driving through a combination of greater driving practice and limiting exposure to risky driving conditions for teens such as driving at night and with peer passengers. Comprehensive GDL systems have been shown to reduce fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers by an average of 38 percent in states that have implemented the program, according to a 2007 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Johns Hopkins University. The Auto Club and AAA are leading advocates for teen driver safety issues. The Auto Club and its northern California counterpart co-sponsored California’s 1998 GDL legislation. The law was enhanced in 2006.

“The new analysis adds to the body of work done previously that showed teen driver safety can continue to be improved,” said Auto Club senior researcher Steven A. Bloch, Ph.D. He added that California’s graduated driver licensing system, one of the first programs implemented in the U.S., could be enhanced further by upgrading enforcement so that citations could be issued to teens for violating the GDL law (primary enforcement), increasing sanctions for GDL violations and requiring a clean driving record before receiving a full license.

According to the analysis conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) for AAA, drivers ages 15 to 17 in 2006 were involved in about 974,000 crashes nationwide, injuring 406,427 persons and killing 2,541.
The $34.4 billion cost in 2006 included $9.8 billion from fatal crashes. The average cost was $3.8 million per fatality. Injury crashes averaged $50,512, with their large numbers producing a total cost of $20.5 billion – more than twice the $9.8 billion cost of fatal crashes. Property damage crashes accounted for the remaining $4.1 billion.
“Some of these costs are paid directly by government through Medicaid, police, paramedics and courts. Many other costs – like lost wages, traffic delay and reduced quality of life – don’t show up directly, but also reflect the very large, very real cost of crashes involving teen drivers,” said Bloch. “States that improve their graduated driver licensing programs will reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths for road users of all ages and reduce crash-related costs that are paid by the state, too.”

During the first two years after 16-year-olds were fully licensed under the California GDL law, teen passenger deaths and injuries when 16-year-olds were behind the wheel declined 40 percent statewide and 47 percent in Los Angeles County, according to an Auto Club analysis. Also, the number of fatal and injury crashes in which 16-year-old drivers were at fault dropped 24 percent, the analysis found.

It’s estimated that California’s passenger restriction prevented nearly 700 deaths and injuries statewide in the first three years after the Golden State’s GDL law took effect. An important reason for this reduction was that the number of teen passengers carried by 16-year-old drivers declined by an estimated 25 percent after the law took effect, according to an AAA analysis. The same analysis showed that teen drivers with passengers were significantly more at risk of causing a crash than solo teen drivers.

A typical three-stage GDL program comprises a learner stage, during which all driving must be supervised; followed by an intermediate stage, during which unsupervised driving is permitted except under certain conditions (such as at night or with passengers); and finally full, unrestricted licensure.

The cost of teen crashes was calculated using modeling that researchers at PIRE have used for economic analysis for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The analysis draws upon a broad range of databases and research involving crashes, injury types and medical costs.
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The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.