Fatal crashes involving teen drivers dropped by more than a third between 2004 and 2008, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that gives part of the credit to restrictions on novice drivers.
Along with state laws barring teens from driving late at night and carrying teen passengers, the agency said safer vehicles and highways, increased seat belt use and less drinking and driving contributed to the reduction in deaths.
The decline in the number of 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes — from 2,230 in 2004 to 1,437 in 2008 — is part of a longer downward trend, according to the CDC. Altogether, 11,019 people died in crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers during the five year period.
Car accidents are still the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Death rates vary widely by geography and gender, the study shows. From 2004 to 2008, nearly two-thirds of teens involved in fatal accidents were male. Moreover, teen drivers in Wyoming were more than six times more likely to die in car crashes (59.6 per 100,000) than their peers in New Jersey and New York (9.7 per 100,000).
A higher minimum driving age in New Jersey and New York City might help explain the difference. By contrast, Wyoming licenses 16-year olds and allows them to drive until 11 p.m. Medical rescue can be complicated in rural states like Wyoming with remote stretches of road and long distances to trauma care centers.
Wyoming’s truck-loving, seat-belt-shunning culture could also factor into the high death rate, Lorrie Pozarik, a safety consultant for the state told the Associated Press. “People feel like, ‘I’m in a pickup, I don’t need a belt,'” Pozarik said. “Our No. 1 fatal crash is a single-vehicle rollover. It happens to be the one crash where a seat belt is most effective when it comes to saving your life.”
Restrictions on teen drivers, called graduated driver licensing programs, were first implemented in 1996 and now exist in 49 states and the District of Columbia. They all restrict nighttime driving and most restrict carrying teen passengers.