As National Teen Driver Safety Week approaches (October 16-22), a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) shows that while much progress has been made in reducing teen driver-involved traffic crashes and deaths over the past decade, teen drivers are still 1.6 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than their adult counterparts, and teen-involved crash deaths spiked 10 percent in 2015. The report, funded by a grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund, also sheds light on data that show the improvement in fatal crash rates among 18- to 20-year-old drivers was considerably less than for their 15- to 17-year-old counterparts, and that older teen drivers are involved in more fatal crashes than younger teens.
The report, Mission Not Accomplished: Teen Safe Driving, the Next Chapter, calls on State Highway Safety Offices and teen driving advocates to carefully monitor what is happening with teen-involved motor vehicle fatalities while expanding their focus to address the heightened crash risk for older teens. The 2015 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showing the jump in teen-involved crash deaths is troubling, but this is the first uptick since 2006 and the report recommends actions that could be taken to avoid a full reversal of the downward trend seen over the past 10 years.
“This data shows that smart programs that focus on teen driving behavior have been very successful in helping novice and younger drivers be safer on the roads, but that we still have more to do,” said Jim Graham, Global Manager for the Ford Driving Skills for Life program. “We also need to make sure older teens benefit from these efforts. Our Driving Skills for Life program has trained more than 1 million new drivers in skills such as hazard recognition, vehicle handling, speed management and space management, and we encourage all drivers under 21 to participate.”
To best understand the challenges surrounding teen driving behavior, the report examined 10 years of data (encompassing 2005-2014) from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which contains data on all vehicle crashes in the United States that occur on a public roadway and involve a fatality. The data analysis used in the report was conducted by Richard Retting, Director of Safety/Research for Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, while the report was researched and written by nationally recognized teen driving expert Pam Fischer, Principal of Pam Fischer Consulting.
“This report drives home the message that there is still much to do to reduce teen driver fatal crashes and the resulting deaths,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins, who oversaw development of the report. “The increase in teen driver fatal crashes is concerning and states are keeping a watchful eye to see if this is the start of a reversal in the gains we’ve made over the past decade. We need to continue to support effective public policies that address this issue and make sure that all drivers under 21 years of age have access to programs that improve teen driver safety.”
In place in all 50 states, Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) is a three-stage licensing system that is proven to reduce teen crash risk by as much as 30 percent. In nearly every state, teens age out of GDL requirements at age 18.
However, “it’s estimated that one in three teens are not licensed by 18,” said Fischer. “That means that once they do obtain a driver’s license, they’re not reaping the benefits of graduated driver licensing.” As 18- to 20-year olds are still at a high crash risk, “policy makers need to understand that reaching age 18 doesn’t necessarily equate to mental maturity – which is critical for safe driving.”
GHSA’s report calls for an expansion of GDL to include all drivers younger than 21 years of age, and provides 11 recommendations (policies and best practices) for states to implement. Suggestions address opportunities for increased training of older teen drivers, high visibility enforcement, continued parental involvement, and safe driving programs at colleges.
States where these policies are in place or being considered include Maryland, where the Rookie Driver program requires all novice drivers regardless of age to complete 30 hours of classroom and six hours of behind the wheel training. In California, state officials and teen safe driving advocates are calling for passage of legislation that would expand that state’s GDL to include older teens, while advocates in Washington State are expected to unveil a teen driving legislative agenda in early 2017 that includes mandatory driver education for older teens.
The report also discusses the impact of a high visibility enforcement and education campaign in Mississippi, Pay Attention, Pay a Fine…Stop the Knock, which useshigh school and college presentations and paid and earned media to educate and engage teens, and the Texas-based U in the Driver Seat program, a teen-led expansion of the high school peer-to-peer Teens in the Driver Seat program. Similar college-level programming is available in California, Ohio, Maryland, Iowa and New York and is increasing student awareness of unsafe driving behaviors and prompting them to protect themselves and their friends.
An interactive PDF version of the report and related infographics are available online.