Kem Picard of Boston didn't receive her driver's license until she was 23. Did waiting until her early 20s make her a safer driver than a 16-year-old Kem would have been? A few failed driving tests and an accident would indicate it didn't. A pair of recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports tends to agree. The study found that experience often matters more than age when it comes to safe driving skills. The truth is that teens and young adults are not great drivers regardless of what age they first get behind the wheel. Car accidents are the No. 1 killer of teens. In 2012, over 2,000 15- to 19-year-olds died in car accidents. An additional 300,000 ended up in emergency rooms.
GDL to the rescue
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws were designed to help novice drivers gain driving experience in a relatively safe environment by restricting their movements at times and in situations that have proven dangerous to young drivers. Nighttime curfews and bans on peer passengers are common elements. GDL programs work. Teen deaths have dropped dramatically since their introduction. According to an Allstate Foundation report, GDL programs have saved approximately 14,820 lives nationwide since 1991. Experts are now questioning whether GDL laws are having an unintended effect on older novice drivers. Most states enforce GDL restrictions only up to the age of 18, letting new drivers over 18 out on the road with a full license. While reasons vary, there is no doubt that teens are waiting longer to get their license. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety discovered that only 44 percent of teens are actually licensed within 12 months of the minimum age of licensure. Only 54 percent have their license before they turn 18. Why are teens waiting? Not in hopes of avoiding their state GDL requirements it appears. Less than 25 percent listed GDL restrictions as the reason they are going sans license. The most popular excuses involved money or more accurately, the lack of it. Not having access to a car was No. 1 at 44 percent, followed closely by the ability to get around without a license (39 percent) with overall cost coming in third at 36 percent.