State legislators in Michigan and elsewhere should revisit the concept of graduated licensing for young drivers. The intent is to limit when, where and with whom drivers younger than 18 can drive, to ease them into the responsibilities, art and science of operating a vehicle and to keep them and the people around them safe. But a new report from the Journal of the American Medical Association shows disturbing unintended consequence.
Graduated licensing has indeed reduced fatalities for drivers in the 16 to 17 age group. But that appears due, in part, to teens in that age group putting off driver training and licensing until they turn 18 and don't need to meet all the requirements of those a year or two younger. And that, in turn, appears to be responsible for a spike in fatalities for drivers when they turn 18 and take to the road with less training and sometimes none at all.
Licensing at age 18 with no training is permitted in most states, the study's lead author said. Michigan appears to be among them. "I was actually bummed by my own findings--to find out we're offsetting the benefits" in young drivers so much, said author Scott Masten. "It was quite unexpected.
The net impact is that graduated licensing appears to be a lifesaver, with more lives saved among 16-year-olds than lost among 18-year-olds. And fatality rates for 17- and 19-year olds? Not affected. Other studies corroborate the JAMA report. In one nationwide survey, about a quarter of people who were 18 and hadn't obtained a license cited the licensing requirements as a reason.
It tells us, as it tells the study's authors, that state legislators should take a look at the statistics in their own states. Where there are no requirements for driver training for anyone getting a first license, we think they should be added.