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Teen Crashes Descrease; Still Top Killer Laws Limiting Driving Privileges Credited For Fewer Fatalities

Fri., Dec. 6, 1996

Fatal car crashes involving teen drivers dropped 24 percent in the past eight years, and the government gives some of the credit to laws that limit their driving privileges while they gain experience behind the wheel.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that crashes are still the top killer of youths between 15 and 20 and urged parents to be the road police in states where the laws aren’t in place.

The CDC said teen drivers were involved in 7,993 fatal crashes in 1995, down 24 percent from 10,415 in 1988.

“There is a decline but there has been a slight drop in all age groups,” said Ann Dellinger, a CDC epidemiologist. “People will be encouraged by this decline, but I don’t want them to forget that teens are at a higher risk for these accidents than any other age.”

That’s evident in another statistic: Young drivers were involved in about 2 million non-fatal crashes in 1995 alone, the CDC said.

Young drivers between 15 and 20 make up 7 percent of all licensed drivers but 14 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes.

Over the past eight years, teen drivers were involved in 68,206 fatal crashes. Most of them were boys, more than a quarter had been drinking and more than half were not wearing seat belts.

All the more reason for limits, the CDC said. That’s the thinking behind new laws adopted in at least 15 states credited in part with stopping teens from steering into disaster.

The laws establish a multi-step, or “graduated” license that slowly give teenagers more and more driving privileges as they gain experience behind the wheel, such as increased hours and more passengers. Some programs also require adult supervision until a youth gains enough driving experience.

But at least one researcher said it’s too early to credit these laws for the drop in teen crashes.

“I think it’s more because of an increased use of seat belts and air bags,” said Rob Foss of the University of North Carolina, who has studied graduated licensing for three years. “They are the most likely explanations. They save lives.”

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