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License restrictions keep more teens off roads, alive

Traffic death rate down dramatically

ATLANTA – Far fewer people are dying in car crashes with teens at the wheel, but it’s not because teenagers are driving more cautiously. Experts say laws are tougher, and cars and highways are safer.

Fatal car crashes involving teen drivers fell by about a third over five years, according to a new federal report that credits tougher restrictions on younger drivers.

The number of deaths tied to these accidents dropped from about 2,200 in 2004 to 1,400 in 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The CDC looked at fatal accidents involving drivers who were 16 or 17. There were more than 9,600 such incidents during the five-year span, and more than 11,000 people died, including more than 4,000 of the teen drivers and more than 3,400 of their passengers.

The report is being published in today’s issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The rate of such fatal crashes has been declining since 1996. Experts credit a range of factors, including safer cars with air bags and highway improvements, which reduce the risk of death.

The number of non-fatal accidents involving drivers 16 and 17 years old has been dropping as well – by 31 percent from 2004 through 2008, according to government figures.

The decline is similar to the 36 percent drop in fatal crashes reported in the new CDC report.

Experts say a chief reason is that most states have been getting tougher on when teens can drive and when they can carry passengers.

“It’s not that teens are becoming safer,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an Arlington, Va.-based research group funded by auto insurance companies.

“It’s that state laws enacted in the last 15 years are taking teens out of the most hazardous driving situations,” such as driving at night or with other teens in the car, he said.

Graduated driver’s licensing programs, as they are called, began appearing in 1996, and 49 states now have them.


 

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