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Friday, September 16, 2011

We've Got to Teach These Kids How to Drive

Half of all accidental deaths in the United States are due to motor vehicle accidents. In general, the younger you are, the worse your driving and the more likely you are to have an accident. As a result, many states have made it harder for teenagers under the age of 18 to get a license, and this has in fact lowered the death rate among the under-18 group. But a new nationwide study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that some teenagers are simply waiting until age 18 to get their license without having to pass driving classes, and they have become a new dangerous group of drivers.

"There's an incentive right now to skip out and just wait until you're 18," said Scott Masten, the study's lead author and a researcher with California's Department of Motor Vehicles. "In most states you don't even need to have driver education or driver training" if you obtain a license at 18, he said.
"I was actually bummed by my own findings — to find out we're offsetting the benefits" in young drivers so much, he said. "It was quite unexpected."
Most previous studies have also linked graduated licensing programs with a decline in fatal crash rates among young teens, but evidence on effects in older teens is mixed.
A journal editorial by researchers with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said the potential effects in older teens "is a serious issue deserving attention by researchers and policymakers." The editorial noted that New Jersey is one of the few states where graduated driver's licensing restrictions apply to all first-time applicants younger than 21. That has led to lower crash rates among 17- and 18-year-olds.
Whether these programs should be extended to include older teens merits further study, the editorial said.
In truth, I don't think further study is necessary. Everyone under 21 should have to complete a rigorous training program before being able to drive a potentially lethal weapon. Why is this unlikely to happen right now, though? Because such a program is expensive. More expensive than the injury and death caused by these young untrained drivers? That's what we need to study. 

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