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Teen Driver Law Reduced Accidents, Report Says

Safety: Extra training required under new California rules sharply curbed deaths and injuries in Los Angeles County, Auto Club researchers say.


California's groundbreaking law requiring extra training for teenagers seeking driver's licenses has been so successful that teenage passenger deaths and injuries when 16-year-olds are behind the wheel dropped nearly 34% in Los Angeles County from 1998 to 1999, according to a study that will be released today by the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The decline in teenage deaths and injuries for the county is significantly greater that the statewide drop of 21%, even though that also showed a remarkable improvement in teenage deaths and injuries.

Steve Bloch, the Auto Club's senior researcher, said he had no ready explanation for the county's sharp decline.

"The 34% drop is above what I would have anticipated," Bloch said.

The researcher suggested that heavier law enforcement here might have made a difference, in contrast to more rural counties around the state.

The study is the first in-depth examination of the impact of the law, which passed in 1998 and set up the Graduated Driver License system.

The Auto Club analysis said the decline was directly related to the tougher law on teenage licensing because during the same period the number of deaths and injuries with 18- and 19-year-olds at the wheel actually went up--13% in Los Angeles County and 5.4% statewide.

"The law looks like it is working quite well," said Auto Club spokeswoman Carol Thorp.

The club was one of the chief sponsors of the law and helped write the statute, which ultimately was supported by a wide array of law enforcement and safety organizations. The law creating the tougher standards for teenagers under 18 was prompted by the relatively high number of youthful drivers who were involved in accidents, injuries and fatalities, particularly at night.

The law increased the requirements on teenagers under 18 who want to obtain a full, unrestricted driver's license.

The law extended from 30 days to six months the time an instruction permit must be held.

Under the previous law, there was no fixed number of hours required for instruction. The new law was written to require 50 hours of supervised driving instruction, with at least 10 hours of night driving.

Although other states also place extra requirements on first-time drivers, California's law is considered the toughest in the nation because it places restrictions on passengers allowed to ride with inexperienced teenage drivers.

Teenagers can't transport passengers under age 20 for the first six months after they get their provisional license unless accompanied by a family member or adult over 25 with a driver's license.

Teenagers under 18 are also prohibited from driving from midnight to 5 a.m. for the first year after they get their license unless they are supervised by a parent, guardian or licensed driver over 25. That restriction was put into the law because those were the hours in which most young teenagers died or were injured.

Along with the decline in deaths and injuries for teenage passengers, the Auto Club researchers said car crashes in which 16-year-old drivers were at fault declined 20% from 1998 to 1999.

By contrast, crashes caused by 18-year-olds increased 6% during the same period.

The numbers of at-fault crashes are particularly meaningful, the researchers said, because crashes caused by 16- and 18-year-old drivers were nearly identical before enactment of the law.

"We were the first state in the country to adopt a tight passenger restriction element," Thorp said. "There are other states that don't have the tight passenger restrictions and might want to look at them in light of these statistics."

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