Stronger graduated driver's licensing program would save lives, prevent injuries in Midwest

November 16, 2009

A new study shows that three-stage graduated driver's licensing (GDL) policies save lives and prevents injuries throughout the Midwest. The research published in the Wisconsin Medical Journal (Vol. 108, No. 8) also shows how states could save more teen lives and avoid thousands of teen motor vehicle injuries by modifying their GDL policies to include new, proven components.

A team of researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin's Injury Research Center in Milwaukee and the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin studied GDL policies and five years of vehicle crash data from six states--Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin--and found that more than 300 deaths could have been prevented if each of these states had included evidence-based modifications to their GDL programs. In addition, nearly 21,400 injuries could have been avoided if they had instituted at least five of the seven components identified by researchers from Johns Hopkins sponsored by the American Automobile Association's (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety and recommended by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:
  1. Minimum age of 16 years for obtaining a learner's permit
  2. A holding period of at least six months after obtaining a learner permit before applying for intermediate phase
  3. At least 30 hours of supervised driving
  4. Minimum age of 16.5 years for entering the intermediate phase
  5. No unsupervised driving at night after 10 p.m. during the intermediate phase
  6. No unsupervised driving during the intermediate phase with more than one passenger younger than 20 years
  7. Minimum age of 17 years for full licensure.

The research led by Timothy Corden, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, obtained these numbers by applying the Johns Hopkins researchers' incidence rate ratio--a number used to predict the reduction of motor vehicle crash fatalities and injuries when a strong GDL policy is implemented--to crash statistics from the states whose GDL policies did not include five of the seven criteria listed above. The results, they argue, show just how beneficial strengthening these policies could be.

"Our study lends support for states moving to include more of the best-practice components and included within the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommendations for state GDL regulations," they say. "This could be viewed as a 'policy treatment prescription' capable of keeping teenagers alive and families intact."

Wisconsin currently has a graduated driver's licensing policy, but it includes only three of the seven evidence-based components. The authors also note that while motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States and Wisconsin, some policymakers may be reluctant to revise GDL laws due, in part, to concerns that delaying the driving age or further restricting teens' nighttime vehicle use might burden busy families. However, parents tend to support GDL programs and are key participants in the development of successful GDL policies, they emphasize.

Medical College of Wisconsin

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