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.
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
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:
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.
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:
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:
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
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:
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