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Auto and Road User Journal
June 24, 1997
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Highway Safety Publications Catalog. Articles on Road Engineering, Road Maintenance & Management, and Injury Litigation. Information and consulting for the Automobile and Road User, as well as for law professionals in accident investigations.
TranSafety's free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and highway safety publications catalog. See our free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and a highway safety publications catalog.

Graduated Licensing
(This article is reproduced with permission from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.)

A license to drive is a ticket to freedom for 16 year-olds and, in many cases, for their parents who don't have to chauffeur them around anymore. But the price is steep - more than a third of all deaths during the teens' next two years will be from crashes. Do 16 year-olds get too much freedom too soon? If so, what to do? Some policy measures can help keep them alive.

High school driver education is not the answer. In many families, it may be the most convenient way for beginners to learn how to drive. But it doesn't produce safer drivers. In terms of crash experience, learning to drive this way is about the same as learning from parents or private driving schools.

A promising approach to the overall problem involves modifying 16 year-olds' initial driving - helping them learn by controlling progression to unrestricted driving, lifting controls one by one until a young driver "graduates" to full licensure. The crux is to influence when beginning drivers may drive and with whom. Restrictions typically include limits on teen passengers, a prohibition on night driving, and/or a requirement that beginners drive only with an older, experienced driver in the car. The blood alcohol concentration specified for teens may also be lower than the one for older drivers.

The first graduated licensing program was implemented in New Zealand in 1987. It's effective, and similar systems were adopted last year in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

A lot of people think of the restrictions as being inhibiting, curtailing . . . but I like to think of [graduated licensing] in terms of a protective mechanism," says Herb M. Simpson, director of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada, adding that parents like it. "The difficult thing is to be able to say no. It's compelling when you have teens who want to be able to use the vehicle, and the parent has to say no. One of the advantages we've heard from parents is that graduated licensing puts them in the position that they're simply complying with rules.

Driving is a far more complex task than most 16 year-olds realize. Allan F. Williams, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's senior vice president for research, explains that beginners "have to accumulate a lot of experience before they're able to combine steering with scanning the environment and putting it all together, all at the same time, behind the wheel." That's not all. Williams adds that "handling a car responsibly takes more than mastering the skills that are involved. It takes the maturity that can only come with time."

Sixteen year-olds "can't learn it overnight," says David F. Preusser, another researcher who has studied the problem of teenage drivers. "It takes a long time to learn what to do and how to predict danger. It also takes time to develop the maturity to make responsible decisions behind the wheel."

Restricting initial driving to daytime hours is part of creating time to learn. It's not just that night driving is a more difficult task. It also "tends to be recreational," Preusser points out. "The 16 year-olds go out with their friends. They're thinking about having fun. And then, if they also have a ton and a half of metal, glass, and plastic hurtling down the highway at 50, 60, or 70 miles an hour, this is a dangerous set of circumstances." Graduated licensing heads off such circumstances by introducing night driving only after on-the-road experience is gained during the day.

So far, not one U.S. state has a full-fledged graduated program. Interest in the idea is on the increase, though, and we may be on the verge of following the Canadian example. "It took several years in Ontario," Simpson remembers, "not to convince the public but to convince the political body that the public really wanted graduated licensing. And to do that required a groundswell of activity. There must have been 15 inquests, and in every one of those cases the death could have been averted . . . . These were all very poignant and very dramatic reminders of the potential power of graduated licensing."


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