For six years running, the number of deaths caused by teen drivers has decreased. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control reports that car accidents are still the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries for kids between 15 and 19 years of age. A study conducted jointly by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance discovered that acute head injuries were a common ailment suffered by teen drivers and their passengers. Roughly 30 percent of the more than 55,000 teens who were seriously injured in 2009 and 2010 suffered head trauma.
The authors of the study made several recommendations for reducing the number of TBI-related deaths among teens. Strict graduated driver licensing laws were cited as an effective means of reducing brain injuries and deaths in the teen driving population. In addition, seat belt laws and programs designed to encourage teens to always wear seat belts were suggested as ways of protecting teens even if a crash does occur.
Graduated driver licensing programs produce a mixed reaction among safety experts. There is no doubt that they reduce car accidents among teenagers. One way in which they do that is to reduce the number of teens who are driving. Instead of inexperienced 16-year-old drivers, states with GDL laws get inexperienced 18-year-old drivers. By removing a large number of teenagers from the equation, those states get an obviously reduced number of teen driving deaths. There is evidence that GDL laws allow new drivers to ease into the challenges of driving by reducing distractions, restricting nighttime driving and giving teens more practice in situations that might otherwise lead to an accident.
The goal of any law in this area should be to reduce the number of tragic brain injuries suffered by young people. Brain injuries can affect a child for the rest of his or her life. Recovery from a head trauma is an uncertain process. One injury can heal quickly and allow the victim to return to full functionality, while the next can be debilitating or even fatal.