Teen driving deaths have dropped by half in Illinois since the state passed the new graduated licensing laws, while fewer teenagers are getting their licenses early.
In 2007, there were 155 teen driving deaths between the ages of 16 and 19. In 2008, the state passed the graduated driver licensing system, which eases teens into driving with phases of gaining driving experience with a parent or guardian, limiting distractions such as cell phones, and letting teens earn their way from one phase to the next.
Nine years after the gradual licenses took effect, teen fatalities are down to 76 in 2016, a reduction of 51 percent.
“I am pleased this law is working as we intended,” Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said. “The goal has always been to save lives. We worked hard to strengthen our GDL program and make it one of the best in the nation.”
Nationally, the number of states requiring a learner’s permit for at least six months has gone from zero in 1995 to 48 plus the District of Columbia in 2017. Of those, 44 states and D.C. require 30 or more hours of supervised driving; 49 restrict night driving after licensing; and 45 restrict passengers once licensed, according to statistics compiled by State Farm.
Another factor that might be an issue: Teens are driving later. The percentage of high school seniors who have a driver’s license dropped from 85.3 in 1996 to a record low 71.5 percent in 2015, according to a study from the University of Michigan. Seniors are most likely to have a license here in the Midwest at 80.4 percent, and least likely in the northeast at 64.8 percent.
The biggest reason is economic, according to PBS Newshour: teens struggled with employment during the recession and had less money to fund car payments and insurance. But the drop remained even after the economy improved, in part because of stricter laws like graduated licensing.
In a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, only 44 percent of teenagers got their license within a year of eligibility, and only 54 percent had one by their 18th birthdays. As in other surveys, the expense of a car and availability of other transportation were the main reasons cited for skipping the license.
In another study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, they found that young adults cited being too busy to get a license, owning a vehicle was too expensive, and able to get alternative transportation as the top three reasons young adults didn’t get licenses from ages 18 to 39. That survey found people of all ages were letting the driver’s license go, although only 17 percent said they didn’t have a license because they preferred public transportation.
A joint survey between State Farm and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that nationally, the number of teens involved in a crash dropped by 43 percent from 2005 to 2015.
However, teens are still the age group most likely to be involved in an injury accident. According to the Centers of Disease Control, teens ages 16 to 19 are three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers over age 20. The motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and their passengers was double that of female drivers, and for either gender, the presence of other teen passengers increases the crash risk. The risk is highest during the first months of licensure, according to the CDC. Teens also have the lowest rate of seat belt use.
The announcement came during National Teen Driver Safety Week, when parents are encouraged to talk to teens about staying safe behind the wheel and avoiding driving while drinking, speeding, texting or not wearing a seat belt.