The proliferation of graduated licensing laws for teen drivers seems to be having the desired effect. Car accidents are still the number cause of death among teens, but since graduated licensing laws first hit the scene in 1996, the death rate among this group has slowly dropped according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. While there is some evidence that teens are driving less, and therefore are less likely to be involved in a car accident, the introduction of driving rights in stages also seems to be playing a role in keeping new drivers safe.
In some states, graduated licensing laws can be sidestepped by driver education courses. In some cases, passing such a course allows teen drivers to receive their learner’s permits earlier, drive without passenger restrictions and drive at night. If the course is comprehensive and effectively overcomes the challenges that make graduated licensing laws effective, there is no reason young drivers should face continuing restrictions. Unfortunately, many of these courses do not give young drivers the tools they need to safely operate a motor vehicle.
With no national standard, states vary widely in their requirements for training a new driver. Whereas most states offered driver education through public school systems in the 1970s, many of the courses are now handled by private companies that charge a fee for enrollment. There is very little oversight into whether these courses give students the basic driving skills and understanding of traffic laws they need to become safe drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration only recently released suggested guidelines, but those guidelines are voluntary.
Teen drivers will likely always suffer accident rates that are elevated over those of more experienced drivers. Still, everything that can be done to encourage safe driving and ensure that they have the tools they need to operate their cars safely should be done. If driver education courses can be used effectively in conjunction with graduated licensing laws, the roads can be made safer for everyone.