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Indiana teen driving restrictions seem to be working

Justin Stoltzfus

Many states are combating high teen crash rates with graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws. GDL laws require teens to go through various predetermined stages before gaining full driving privileges. But do such laws actually work? A report from Indiana suggests that they do.

Indiana’s teen driving law

Teens have historically been a risky group — their inexperience and likelihood of engaging in reckless behavior are reflected in their higher auto insurance premiums. Beginning in the 1990s, states began enacting GDL laws of varying strictness, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Indiana’s current GDL law was rolled out in two stages in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, the state placed greater restrictions on nighttime driving for teens on probationary licenses and banned cell phone use for drivers under 18. In July 2010, the state raised the ages for applying for a probationary license and a learner’s permit. The previous age for a probationary license had been 30 days after your 16th birthday if you had taken a driving safety course. The new changes push that age up by several months, meaning those waiting with baited breath for a state driving test or progressive license would have to wait a little longer. The State of Indiana issues a full-privilege, unrestricted license at age 18.

Is the new law working?

Data from the Public Policy Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis suggests that Indiana’s GDL law has been effective in reducing accident rates. The Public Policy Institute’s 2010 report, titled “Effects of Graduated Driver Licensing on Crash Outcomes in Indiana,” found that:

  • Crash rates for young drivers were reduced since the law took effect. This was mostly because 15- and 16-year-olds who were able to apply for licenses at a younger age are no longer allowed to do so. But the crash rate for all drivers 18 and under dropped as well. Teens made up 4 percent of all drivers involved in crashes in the state in 2010, compared with 6 percent in 2008.
  • Crash rates for teens driving at night and with passengers in the car fell. However, this decrease was on par with decreases in previous years.
  • Fewer teen crashes were caused by the driver using a cellphone. The percentage of teens using a cellphone at the time of the crash dropped slightly — but, according to the report, the number is still significant because officers are becoming increasingly likely to report cellphone use in a crash report.

Even before the law, Indiana had done much to lower the number of teen crashes. According to data cited in the Public Policy Institute’s report, teen crashes in Indiana have dropped almost 50 percent since 2000. Indiana officials hope the GDL changes will further lower those rates, which remain slightly higher than the national average.

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