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Study: Mixed results for teen-driving restrictions

September 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new study shows that despite some good intentions, there are problems with the way we approach teenage driving. The death rate for one group is going down, while the death rate for a second group is going up.

Watch a teen taking a DMV driving test and you'll see one of the most careful, most attentive drivers on the road. But that caution can quickly disappear.

That's the reason California lawmakers instituted one of the most restrictive sets of driving rules for teens in the country.

Sixteen and 17 year olds can't drive after 11 p.m. and can only drive passengers under 20 years old if an adult at least 25 years old is present.

The results of a new nationwide study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association question the success of California's strict rules.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles took part in the study, which found that states with strong teen-driving restrictions saw 26 percent fewer fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers than in states without any teen restrictions. That's the good news.

But researchers found that the number of fatal crashes involving 18-year-olds is 12 percent higher than in the more lax states.

"There's two hypotheses," said Scott Masten, research manager, California Dept. of Motor Vehicles. "One is that teens are coming out and they're not actually as experienced as they had been in the past before GDL (Graduated Driver's License law). The other is that teens are simply skipping out."

Some drivers young and old say the study shows that California's teen driving laws don't go far enough.

But others say too many restrictions on 16- and 17-year-olds rob them of valuable driving experience.

California is not the toughest state on teenage drivers. New Jersey has the same restrictions as California, but stay in effect until drivers are 21 years old.

Car crashes are the number-one cause of death for American teenagers.

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