Teen driving laws yield mixed results, research shows

Published April 2, 2014

Like other states, North Carolina has adopted laws that place restrictions on teen drivers in an effort to keep them safe while they adapt to the responsibilities of driving. These restrictions, known as graduated licensing laws, have been widely touted in recent years as a way to help keep teens safe from traffic accidents - the leading cause of death in that age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, new research suggests that although these laws are effective at reducing the fatal crash risk for some teens, they may also increase the risk for others.

An overview of graduated licensing laws

When it comes to car accidents, the first few years after becoming licensed are typically some of the most dangerous years in a person's life. For every mile driven, drivers age 16 to 19 are three times more likely than older drivers to be involved in a fatal car accident, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Graduated driver's licensing laws were developed as a way to help minimize the risks that novice drivers pose to themselves and others on the road by giving teens a chance to gain on-the-road experience as they gradually take on more privileges and responsibilities behind the wheel.

There are typically three stages of graduated licensing:

  • A beginning stage during which adult supervision is required at all times
  • An intermediate stage in which adult supervision is required in certain higher risk situations
  • A full privilege stage in which all restrictions are removed

In North Carolina, the graduated licensing law restricts night driving for newly licensed teens and also places limits on the number of minor passengers who may be present in the vehicle without an adult. Both of these factors have been found to increase the risk of accidents among teen drivers.

New report shows mixed impact of teen driving restrictions

To assess the impact of teen driving restrictions, researchers at the California Department of Motor Vehicles examined data from U.S. traffic fatalities involving 16- to 19-year-olds during the years 1986 through 2007. The analysis revealed that strict teen driving laws correlated with a lower overall rate of teen driving fatalities, but a higher fatality rate among older teens once the restrictions were no longer in effect.

Specifically, the researchers found that 16-year-old drivers were 26 percent less likely to be in a fatal car crash when strict teen driving limits were in place than without such restrictions. However, the study also showed a 12 percent increase in fatal crashes among 18-year-old drivers under the same circumstances. Curiously, there appeared to be no significant difference in fatality risk among 17- and 19-year-olds.

According to a Reuters report on the study, the researchers stressed that their findings do not necessarily indicate that graduated driver's licensing laws are ineffective, but rather that additional research is needed to better understand the impact of these laws. They also pointed out that their analysis was limited to fatal crashes and did not account for any changes in non-fatal accidents that may also occur as a result of teen driving laws.

Get legal help after a crash

If you or a member of your family has been hurt in a traffic accident in North Carolina, the law provides you with the opportunity to seek compensation for your medical bills and other related losses. However, there are strict time limits on such claims, so it is important to act quickly to preserve your rights. To learn more, speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer.