6. Young Drivers
Young drivers under 21 are substantially over-involved in crashes. In 2003, drivers under 21 were 6.4 percent of all licensed drivers in the United States , 13.8 percent of drivers in fatal crashes, and 17.6 percent of drivers in all crashes (NHTSA, 2005, Table 63).
Per mile driven, young drivers are even more over-involved. From April 2001 through March 2002, young drivers were involved in 7.4 fatal crashes per 100 million miles of travel, compared to 4.3 for drivers 21 to 24 and 1.6 for drivers 30 to 69 years old (IIHS, 2005).
Trends. The number of young drivers in fatal crashes dropped 22 percent over the past 20 years, from 10,080 in 1982 to 7,884 in 2003. However, the decrease occurred during the first 10 years, from 1982 to 1992, and the number of young drivers in fatal crashes increased 6 percent from 1992 to 2003. The decrease was due entirely to a reduction in alcohol-involved drivers from 1982 to 1993. Sober driver involvements increased 7 percent from 1982 to 2003, and the number of alcohol-involved drivers has been essentially constant since 1993.
Young-driver characteristics. Young drivers have high crash risks for two main reasons, as documented by extensive research (summarized in Hedlund et al., 2003). First, they are inexperienced, just learning to drive. The mechanics of driving require much of their attention, so safety considerations frequently are secondary. They do not have experience in recognizing potentially risky situations or in reacting appropriately and controlling their vehicles in these situations. Second, they are immature, sometimes seeking risks for their own sake, often not able or willing to think ahead to the potentially harmful consequences of risky actions.
Inexperience and immaturity combine to make young drivers especially at-risk in four circumstances:
Graduated driver licensing (GDL) addresses both the inexperience and immaturity of young drivers. GDL provides a structure in which beginning drivers gain substantial driving experience in less-risky situations. GDL raises the minimum age of full licensure and helps parents manage their teenage drivers. GDL's effectiveness in reducing crashes has been demonstrated many times (Shope and Molnar, 2003; Simpson, 2003; Hedlund and Compton, 2005).
Driver education was developed to teach both driving skills and safe driving practices. Based on evaluations to date, school-based driver education for beginning drivers does not reduce crashes. Rather, it lowers the age at which teenagers become licensed, so its overall effect is to increase crashes (Hartling et al., 2004; Roberts et al., 2001; Vernick et al., 1999). Current research is investigating ways to integrate driver education with GDL and is developing second-level programs for drivers who have acquired basic driving skills and have been licensed.
Parents play a key role in their teenagers' driving. In many States a parent or guardian must sign the driver's license application for a teenager under 18 and parents can withdraw their approval at any time. Parents can set limits on their teenagers' driving. Through their own driving, parents provide role models for good or bad driving practices. Parents can be involved explicitly and formally, through GDL requirements for a minimum number of hours of supervised driving practice under a learner's permit. Or they can be involved voluntarily and informally. Several parent-teen driving guide programs can provide assistance.
Young drivers are subject to two traffic laws that apply only to them: GDL and the zero-tolerance BAC laws discussed in Chapter 1. In addition, they are subject to all other traffic laws. Enforcement is critical if these laws are to have any effect. The law enforcement system faces two problems when dealing with young drivers. First, in some situations there may be a tendency for officers not to make arrests or for prosecutors to dismiss charges because the offender is "just a kid." Second, the legal system imposes additional requirements for people under the age of legal adulthood (18 in most States). See NHTSA and NIAAA (1999) for a discussion of these requirements and processes for alcohol-related offenses.
Young drivers are discussed in other chapters of this guide. See in particular:
Except for GDL requirements applying to automobile drivers, these discussions are not repeated in this chapter.
Environmental and vehicular strategies can improve safety for young drivers, as they can for all drivers. Two vehicle issues are especially relevant. Driving older, smaller, or less-stable vehicles can raise their crash risk ( Ferguson , 2003). Some parents are installing devices on their teenagers' vehicles to monitor the vehicle's location, speed, or other performance characteristics (Williamson, 2005).
An NCHRP guide for reducing crashes involving young drivers is being developed in 2005 and should be released by 2006.
Countermeasures to improve young driver safety are listed below and discussed individually in this chapter. The table is intended to give a rough estimate of each countermeasure's effectiveness, use, cost, and time required for implementation. The terms used are described below. Effectiveness, cost, and time to implement can vary substantially from State to State and community to community. Costs for many countermeasures are difficult to measure, so the summary terms are very approximate. See each countermeasure discussion for more information.
1. Graduated Driver Licensing
2. Driver education
4. Traffic law enforcement
Effectiveness is measured by reductions in crashes or injuries unless noted otherwise.
See individual countermeasure descriptions for information on effectiveness size and how effectiveness is measured.
Cost to implement:
Time to implement:
These estimates do not include the time required to enact legislation or establish policies.