Study Finds that Rigorous Graduated Teen Driver Licensing Programs Reduce Traffic Fatalities

Examining the effects of state alcohol policy and motor vehicle fatalities among young adults

Many states have established graduated driver licensing programs that require teen drivers to advance through distinct stages before receiving full driver licenses.

Between May 2003 and September 2004, Michael Morrisey, PhD, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, examined the effects of graduated driver licensing programs on motor vehicle fatalities among teenagers. Morrisey worked with research colleagues at Swarthmore College and Harvard University.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

Key Findings

  • Graduated driver licensing programs reduced overall traffic fatalities among 15–17-year-olds by 5.6 percent, or 131 teen deaths per year.
  • More rigorous graduated driver licensing programs were more effective in reducing fatalities among 15–17-year-olds than less rigorous programs. "Good" programs reduced fatalities by 19.2 percent; "fair" programs reduced fatalities by 5.8 percent; and "marginal" programs had no effect on fatalities. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing death, injury and damage from highway crashes, has defined these concepts.
  • Graduated driver licensing programs reduced teen passenger fatalities but not driver fatalities when other teens were in a car driven by a 15–17 year old.