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Tougher driving laws not aiding older teens

Associated Press / September 14, 2011

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CHICAGO - Strong driver’s license laws have led to fewer fatal crashes among 16-year-olds but with a disturbing side effect - more fatal accidents among 18-year-olds, a nationwide study found.

Many states require young drivers to get extensive experience, including driving with an adult, before getting a full license. But in most states those laws apply only to those younger than 18. The new study suggests some teens are just putting off getting a license until they turn 18 - meaning they have little experience and higher odds for a deadly crash.

“There’s an incentive right now to skip out and just wait until you’re 18,’’ said Scott Masten, the study’s lead author and a researcher with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. “In most states you don’t even need to have driver education or driver training’’ if you obtain a license at 18, he said.

The study examined fatal crashes from 1986 to 2007 involving 16- to 19-year-olds. Results appear in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. Most previous studies have also linked graduated licensing programs with a decline in fatal crash rates among teens, but evidence on effects in older teens is mixed.

Every state has some type of graduated driver’s licensing program. These typically allow full, unrestricted licenses to drivers younger than 18 only after several months of learning while driving with an adult, followed by unsupervised driving with limits on things like night driving and the number of passengers.

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