Road safety depends on the drivers' good judgment and a reduced willingness to take risks, which, like most habits, develop over time. Anything that improves road safety for all drivers improves safety for young drivers. Some strategies are designed specifically for young drivers to limit exposure to risk while they are developing good judgment and safe driving habits.
Road Safety Strategies Specific for Teenage Drivers
Road Safety Strategies for All Drivers
Graduated Licensing Laws
Laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia establish graduated licensing requirements for new drivers. Specific requirements vary from state to state, but each licensing program has three stages:1
- Learner stage. In most states, drivers in this stage must always be supervised by an adult. At the end of the learner stage, the driver must pass a test to move to the next stage.
- Intermediate stage. Laws during this stage establish a minimum age requirement and place restrictions on nighttime driving and the number of passengers.
- Full privilege stage. Laws mandate a minimum age, usually 18, for unrestricted driving.
The number of car crashes decreased in states with stronger licensing programs, particularly those with more restrictions.2
The most effective legislation has at least five of the following seven elements:
- A minimum age of 16 for the learner's permit
- A restriction requiring a young driver to have a learner's permit for at least six months before he or she could apply for a provisional license
- A requirement for 50 to 100 hours of supervised driving
- A minimum age of 17 for an intermediate stage license
- Restrictions on driving at night
- A limit on the number of teenage passengers allowed in the car
- A minimum age of 18 for a full-privilege license3
Parents play an important role in the success of graduated licensing. They can determine when teens may test for a learner's permit or a license. They may also supervise practice driving for the provisional driver. In addition, they can help enforce certain conditions, such as no driving at night. Research shows that in families where parents impose stricter limits, teens are less likely to exhibit risky driving behavior.4
NICHD researchers developed the national Checkpoints Program — a driver education program that encourages parents to supervise their newly licensed teens and to model good driving behavior.
One important feature of the Checkpoints Program is a written agreement signed by both parents and teens. In this agreement, parents and teens commit to the conditions under which the new driver will develop good driving judgment. These include not driving in conditions that place drivers at increased risk for car crashes Learning to drive is a process of developing good judgment behind the wheel; the first six months after new drivers receive their licenses are considered the most dangerous.5
With a driving agreement, the parent and teen establish a "checkpoint" in one month. At that point, they will assess the new driver's comfort level with driving on local roads in different situations. In the first checkpoint, these include situations in daylight, when roads are dry, and with no other passenger in the car. After each additional checkpoint, the parent agrees to remove restrictions as long as the teen demonstrates good driving judgment. In addition, the parent commits to providing the teen rides as needed until all of the checkpoints are achieved.
Preventing Distracted Driving
Inattention is a leading cause of crashes. Anything that takes a driver's attention from the road, including dialing, texting, and adjusting cell phones and other electronic devices, increases the risk of car crashes. In addition, tasks that require thought reduce the driver's ability to identify and react to potential road hazards. Currently, 31 states ban all cell phone use by novice drivers. Only 10 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands ban the use of handheld cell phones by drivers of all ages. In all but two of these states, the use of the phone alone is sufficient for a police officer to stop a driver. Texting while driving is now banned in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam.6
In addition to laws regulating the use of cell phones and other electronic devices, general improvements in the driving environment can reduce crash rates. These include7:
- "Rumble strips" (strips of ridged pavement that cause rumbling when driven over) on both the centerline and shoulders of the road
- Wide and visible edge lines
- Easily visible road signs
- Better lighting at night
Countering Speeding and Risky Driving
More than half of fatal crashes involve risky driving, with speeding being the most common factor.6 Strategies to combat these problems fall into four categories:
- Laws. Speed limit laws are effective when they are enforced. Laws that target aggressive or risky driving are not considered effective and are not used frequently.
- Enforcement. Automated enforcement, such as speed cameras, can effectively reduce speeding and crash prevalence. Other types of enforcement, even high-visibility police enforcement, are only moderately effective.
- Penalties and adjudication. These strategies work only moderately well at best.
- Communications and outreach. Public information campaigns on enforcement are effective, but the costs can be high.
Use of Safety Belts
Seat belts protect drivers as well as passengers from injury and death. For people in the front seat, safety belts can reduce the risk of fatal injury by up to 60%.8 In vehicles with both safety belts and air bags, both safety features are more effective when used together.9 Thanks to these and other safety features, passenger vehicles are safer now than they've ever been, and injuries from serious crashes are less severe now than they used to be.10
About 87% of people use safety belts,9 an all-time high. However, teenage drivers are less likely to use them than adult drivers.11
As of September 2013, 33 states and the District of Columbia allow officers to stop a driver solely for violation of a safety belt use law. In 16 states, officials can cite violators only when they are stopped for some other traffic violation. One statehas no requirement for safety belt use.8
In addition to enforcing safety belt laws, the Click It or Ticket campaign spreads awareness of the importance of wearing seat belts and is effective in increasing safety belt use. Safety belt use is highest in states that allow officers to stop a driver solely for violating safety belt laws and that publicize their enforcement of these laws.8
Preventing Drinking and Driving
Drinking and driving has declined greatly in the past decade. In combination with the approaches below, social norms about the acceptability of drinking and driving have changed due to public information campaigns. However, drinking and driving and drinking and riding remain high among teenagers.12 The following three approaches can help prevent people from drinking and driving:
- Sobriety checkpoints. These checkpoints give police officers the chance to judge whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol and test the blood alcohol level of an individual if he or she shows signs of intoxication. Expanded use of such checkpoints could save 1,500 to 3,000 lives each year.
- Minimum legal drinking age laws. These laws dramatically lowered the rate of teens driving while intoxicated. Keeping the legal drinking age at 21 and enforcing it helps prevent young, inexperienced drivers from drinking and driving.13
- Driving-prevention devices. Devices called "ignition interlocks" can be installed in cars to prevent them from starting when the driver's blood alcohol level exceeds the limit. These devices are used to prevent drivers convicted of alcohol-impaired driving from drinking and driving. Studies show they reduce re-arrest rates for drinking and driving by about two-thirds.14
- Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). (2012, May). Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws. Retrieved May 6, 2012, from http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/license_laws.html See also Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). (n.d.). Young driver licensing systems in the U.S. Retrieved May 6, 2012, from http://www.iihs.org/laws/graduatedLicenseIntro.aspx [top]
- Shope, J. T., Molnar, & L. J. (2003, January). Graduated driver licensing in the United States; evaluation results from the early programs. Journal of Safety Research; 34(1),63-69. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12535907 [top]
- Simons-Morton, B. (2007). Parent involvement in novice teen driving: Rationale, evidence of effects, and potential for enhancing graduated driver licensing effectiveness. Journal of Safety Research, 38, 193–202. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2563441/ [top]
- NICHD. (2011, November 4). Graduated drivers licensing programs reduce fatal teen crashes [NIH News release]. Retrieved May 6, 2012, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/Pages/110411-graduated-licensing.aspx [top]
- State Farm Insurance. (2007). Teen drivers. Honest talk. Real solutions: A handbook for parents. Retrieved June 19, 2012, from http://teendriving.statefarm.com/system/article_downloads/State_Farm_Teen_Driving_A_Handbook_for_Parents_engl.pdf (PDF - 481 KB).[top]
- Kelley-Baker, T., & Romano, E. (2010). Female involvement in U.S. nonfatal crashes under a three-level hierarchical crash model. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 42(6), 2007–2012. [top]
- GHSA. (2012). Cell phone and texting laws. Retrieved May 7, 2012, from http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html [top]
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2011). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasure guide for state highway safety offices (6th ed.) (NHTSA Publication No. DOT HS 811 620). Retrieved May 7, 2012, from http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nti/pdf/811444.pdf (PDF - 3.47 MB) [top]
- IIHS. (2012). Safety belt and child restraint laws. Retrieved September 19, 2013, from http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/safety-belts/topicoverview [top]
- NHTSA. (2013). Occupant protection. Traffic Safety Facts: 2011 Data (NHTSA Publication No. DOT HS 811 729). Retrieved September 19, 2013, from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811729.pdf (PDF - 843 KB) [top]
- IIHS. (2006). Bad statistics lead to misinformation. Status Report, 41(4). Retrieved September 19, 2013, from http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=782456 (PDF - 851 KB). [top]
- García-España, J. F., Winston, F. K., & Durbin, D. R. (2012). Safety belt laws and disparities in safety belt use among US high-school drivers. American Journal of Public Health 102(6), 1128–1134. PMID: 22515851 [top]
- Li, K. -G., Simons-Morton, B. G., & Hingson, R. (in press). Impaired driving prevalence among US high school students: associations with substance use and risky driving behaviors. American Journal of Public Health. [top]
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Underage drinking: A growing health care concern. Retrieved June 29, 2012, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/PSA/underagepg2.htm [top]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Drinking and driving: A threat to everyone. Retrieved May 4, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/drinkinganddriving/ [top]