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Fewer Teens in Crashes, Study Finds

September 22, 2002|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tough restrictions on new teenage drivers imposed four years ago have reduced the number of teens involved in alcohol-related crashes in California, according to a study by the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The study on the impact of the 1998 graduated driver licensing program found that alcohol-related accidents involving 16-year-old drivers dropped 16% in the first year after it was adopted and 13% in the second year.

At the same time, alcohol-related accidents increased for drivers who received licenses before the licensing program took effect, the study found.

"This new study is the first analysis for California or the U.S. to confirm that graduated driver licensing has a positive impact on drinking-and-driving crashes," said Steven Bloch, a senior Auto Club researcher.

At least 33 states throughout the nation have adopted graduated licensing laws similar to California's.

Under the law, new drivers under age 18 must hold their learner's permit for at least six months before getting a provisional license. During that time, they must spend at least 50 hours behind the wheel practicing with a parent or guardian.

Once they earn a provisional license, teenagers are prohibited from carrying passengers younger than 20 for the first six months unless a licensed driver 25 or older is in the vehicle.

The law, endorsed by the Auto Club and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was adopted in response to high death and injury rates among young drivers.

In California, drivers 15 to 19 represent about 4% of the driving population but are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents and 10% of all injury accidents, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Previous Auto Club studies have shown that the licensing law has helped reduce all types of accidents involving teenage drivers. This latest study shows specifically that the law has helped reduce alcohol-related accidents.

"We are delighted with the results," said Tina Pasco, executive director of the Los Angeles County chapter of MADD.

According to the study, 16-year-old drivers were involved in 271 alcohol-related crashes in 1997, the year before the law took effect. That translates to five crashes per 100,000 drivers. That number dropped to 236 accidents in 1999 and 246 in 2000, or 4.2 crashes per 100,000 drivers.

In contrast, the number of alcohol-related accidents for new drivers who were licensed before the program took effect has risen each year. It went from 1,118 accidents in 1997 to 1,321 crashes, or 23 per 100,000 drivers, in 1998. That is a 6% increase.

That number increased again to 1,421 last year--an 11% rise.

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