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Study: Young driver restrictions increase fatal accidents later

Graduated driver licensing programs for young drivers may have unintended negative consequences, according to a recent study based on data released by the American Medical Association (AMA). Such programs are intended to reduce car accidents among teenage drivers. They ease new drivers from restricted licensing into full licensing. The study finds that states with the most restrictive laws showed fewer fatal accidents among 16 and 17 year-old drivers, but more accidents for 18 and 19 year olds.

New Jersey driving laws have limited restrictions on teen drivers. In New Jersey, 16 year-olds can enroll in driver education programs, take vision and knowledge tests and obtain a learner's permit. After they have practiced supervised driving for at least six months, they can take a road test. Drivers from the ages of 17 to 20 can qualify for examination permits before their six months of supervised driving and road test. All drivers younger than 21 receive probationary licenses, and they then drive unsupervised for a year before qualifying for a basic driver's license.

The new study, conducted by an official of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, covered very broad data. It included fatal accidents involving teenagers from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. This meant considering more than 131,000 fatal crashes from 1986 to 2007. States with the most restrictive policies on teens showed fatal accidents involving 16-year-old drivers drop by 26 percent. However, the same states showed a 12 percent leap in fatal accidents involving 18-year-old motorists. These ratios were compared with states lacking such restrictions. The AMA believes the study shows that restricting younger drivers limits the experience that they need for safer driving later.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Teen driver restrictions a mixed bag," Shari Roan, Sept. 13, 2011

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