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Readers of this blog know that I got my start in the cause of safer teen driving by serving on a statewide task force here in Connecticut that transformed our teen driving law from one of the nation’s most lenient to one of the strictest. Our changes included increasing required on-the-road training hours from 20 to 40; requiring at least one parent of each learner’s permit holder to attend a two-hour teen driving safety class; mandatory license suspensions for violations of teen driving rules; restricting non-family passengers for the first year of licensure; moving the curfew back from midnight to 11 PM; closing a drunk driving loophole; requiring every passenger of a teen driver to wear a seat belt; and allowing law enforcement officers to confiscate a teen driver’s license and car where the situation warranted such action.
When our Governor signed these changes into law in April 2008, effective August 1, 2008, we knew it would take a few years before we would have an idea of how effective this combination of new and tighter restrictions would be. We now have an answer: Very effective.
The Connecticut DMV recently released an analysis showing that from 2002 to 2007, an average of eight 16 or 17 year old drivers died on Connecticut roads. For 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, the comparable numbers were five, four, two and one.
Before I go any further, I have to confess to being a bit nervous about even repeating these numbers. In December 2010, the Connecticut traffic safety community gathered at the State Capitol for a celebration of the first two years of our new laws. The next day, four teens died in a crash in eastern Connecticut.
But these numbers are extraordinary no matter how we look at at them, and if not a cause for celebration, then a basis for reflection and for encouraging other states considering teen driver law improvements to make them promptly.
These numbers need to put in context in several ways. First, the data are for 16 and 17 year old drivers who died. One of the unfortunate realities of teen driving, however, is that teen drivers kill more “others” — their passengers, other drivers and their passengers, and pedestrians — than themselves. So, for example, the December 2010 crash in Griswold, Connecticut killed four teens but shows up in this new data as one 16 year old driver killed. In 2006, 49 people died on Connecticut roads in crashes involving drivers under the age of 20, but the number of actual 16 and 17 year old drivers is a relatively small part of this overall statistic. Second, the reduction in fatalities unquestionably has been helped by the rising price of gasoline that has resulted in teens driving fewer miles, and by the fact that some teens are now waiting until they turn 18 to get their licenses, when they are out from under the new restrictions. This has raised the problematic issue of whether to extend teen driving restrictions to 18 and 19 year olds, and whether rules for 16 and 17 year olds merely kick the can down the road.
Still, everything considered, these new data unequivocally show the effectiveness of stricter teen driver rules. Perhaps Connecticut has shown the way for other states. As noted in my last post, Congress is presently considering a national incentive program that will provide financial support to states whose teen drivers laws meet a minimum standard (a standard that Connecticut’s law mostly exceeds).
For parents of teen drivers in states in which the laws for 16 and 17 year olds are not as strict as the Congressional bill or Connecticut’s package, the message in these new Connecticut data is this: if adopted voluntarily by a family, such as through a teen driving agreement, this combination of restrictions will substantially reduce the possibility of a crash, an injury, and a fatality.