A new calculator feature produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that attempts to quantify the benefits states could see from developing stricter teen-licensing laws estimates that South Dakota has the most to gain from beefing up new-driver restrictions. According to the IIHS calculator, the rates at which 16- and 17-year-old South Dakotans file collision claims could be cut by 37 percent and the rate at which they are involved in fatal accidents could drop by a whopping 63 percent if they matched their graduated driver licensing laws with the best in the country.
Graduated driver licensing laws—also known as GDLs—implement a tiered licensing system in which the youngest, least-experienced drivers have the greatest restrictions. Over the course of a few years, those restrictions ease up. GDLs usually have the following generic restrictions:
—Minimum permit age
—Minimum permit holding period
—Minimum number of supervised driving hours
—Minimum age of licensure
—Restrictions on driving at night and with young passengers
Beginning South Dakota drivers are required to be only 14 years old to get a permit (the IIHS ideal is 16), do not need to put in any practice hours (ideal is 65), need to be at least 14 years and 3 months old to get a license (ideal is 17 years), and must be off the road by 10 p.m. (ideal is 8 p.m.), according to the IIHS. The license law also has no passenger restrictions for beginning drivers (the ideal is to allow no non-family passengers until full licensure).
According to the calculator, fatal crashes could be cut by nearly half if the state just bumped up its permit and licensing ages to match the IIHS ideal.
Maryland’s GDL Laws Closest to Ideal
Meanwhile, Maryland came out as the state that’s closest to the IIHS’s ideal. Maryland has a minimum permit age of 15 years and 9 months, minimum 60 practice hours, a minimum license age of 16.5 years, nighttime driving restrictions from midnight to 5 a.m., and a ban on all passengers under 18 for the first five months of having a license.
Still, if Maryland changed its licensing requirements to match the IIHS ideal, the IIHS estimates it could see for 16- and 17-year-olds a 9 percent reduction in the collision claims rate and a 19 percent reduction in the fatal crash rate.
Extensive GDL Laws Have Good Track Record
One of the biggest, most well-documented GDL success stories is Maryland’s neighbor, Delaware, which has similar restrictions.
In 2010, the University of Delaware ran an analysis of the state’s GDL law, which was implemented in 1999. In the years before implementation, the crash rate for 16-year-old drivers was holding relatively steady. But between 1999 and 2000, the 16-year-old crash rate dropped dramatically, by nearly 38 percent. And by 2008, the youngest drivers’ crash rates had fallen 64 percent from their 1999 levels.
Crash rates for 17- and 18-year-olds, however, held relatively steady, dropping only by about 14 percent between 1999 and 2008.
Another report, published by National Institutes of Health, found that the “proportion of hospitalizations, injuries, crashes involving property damage, and total number of crashes involving registered 16- and 17-year-old drivers after GDL each decreased by at least 30 percent.”
Auto Insurance Implications
Young drivers have to pay more for auto insurance to cover their increased risk of filing a claim, and even the cheapest insurance available to young drivers is still expensive. A particular 16-year-old could be the most-careful driver in the nation, but he or she still hasn’t established a meaningful record of clean driving. So to an insurance company, the same precautions have to be taken as if it were any other driver in the same statistical situation.
If more states step up their GDL laws, it’s possible that crash rates for the youngest drivers could fall dramatically, as they did in Delaware. If that were the case, those GDL laws could be the best thing for young drivers’ wallets as well as their health.