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New Research Confirms Parents, Laws Can Make a Difference in Reducing Teens’ Risky Driving Behavior

May 17, 2016

Lifesaving Change Possible with Stronger State Teen GDL Licensing Laws

Washington, D.C. – Every day, six teens die in a motor vehicle crash. These tragedies are often the result of inexperienced teen drivers taking risks like not buckling up, texting, speeding and driving under the influence or, without sufficient practice, driving in the dark or with teen passengers. New research from Safe Kids Worldwide, made possible by the General Motors Foundation, reveals that family agreements and stronger driver’s license laws, both with provisions to curb risky behavior and build experience, have a proven track record for saving lives. Parents favor the stronger provisions in laws, according to the Safe Kids survey.

Download the Report

The report shows that when parents and teens discuss rules for driving and come to an agreement, whether verbal or written, teens are less likely to engage in risky behavior while driving. For instance, teens who have an established family rule against drinking and driving were 10 times less likely to report doing so than those who didn’t have an established rule. Teens with explicit family rules were more likely to wear their seat belt every time and were less likely to drive distracted or speed.

Similarly, states which have adopted laws with provisions similar to those rules have saved lives. Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws set rules on when a teen driver can enjoy greater privileges as they gain experience by requiring supervised driving periods, limits on night driving and teen passengers in the car. The laws are associated with a 38 percent reduction in the rate of fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers. The respected Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that if all 50 states had the strictest possible GDL law, it could save about 500 lives a year and prevent 9,500 crashes by 15- to 17-year old drivers.

Driver’s license laws are made in the states. Every state has a GDL program but every state’s law can be improved. This is the experience in two of them:

  • Connecticut’s GDL law was passed in 2004 and enhanced in 2008 to include a 48 hour automatic suspension for serious road law violations. In 2014, Connecticut reported that just one driver ages 16-17 died in a motor vehicle crash and zero passengers ages 16-17 driven by a driver in that same age range had been killed.
  • New Jersey doesn’t allow full driver’s privileges until age 17, and requires a decal on the car license plate indicating that a teen driver is behind the wheel. After the state implemented its GDL law, the fatal crash rate of 17-year-olds fell by 25 percent compared to drivers ages 25-29.

This experience can be matched in states with overall high rates of preventable injury fatalities (not just road injury fatalities), based on an online app developed by IIHS:

  • Arkansas saw 36 teens die in crashes in 2014. The state could achieve a 26 percent reduction in fatal crashes if it raised its permit age from 14 to 16 and moved the night curfew to 10 p.m. This translates into at least nine lives saved every year.
  • Alabama made progress on its teen driving laws in 2015 by passing a law increasing the number of supervised practice hours to 50. In Alabama, 59 teen drivers died in 2014. Based on the IIHS calculator, Alabama could attain a 24 percent reduction if it raised its learner’s permit and full license ages, and set a 10 p.m. curfew on night driving. That could save at least 14 lives each year.

See chart below for more comparisons on how stronger GDL laws can save lives.

The research showed parents who demonstrated good behavior impacted the safe driving habits of their teen drivers. For example, teens who saw a parent driving after drinking were three times more likely to report doing the same than teens whose parents modeled safe behavior. Past research revealed that teens were more likely to buckle up on every ride if their parents made buckling up a consistent habit from a young age.

Particularly disturbing are the statistics on the risks for males. Males make up 75 percent of teen deaths in car crashes, and the risk of a crash by teen drivers is almost three times higher if their passengers are male.

“Our sons and daughters are dying in car crashes because they are inexperienced drivers who are taking unnecessary risks, like texting, driving under the influence, speeding and not wearing a seat belt,” said Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. “Given the tragedies we see in this report and in so many families, we see great value in states passing stronger laws and for parents and their teens to put an agreement in place. Parents, make sure you are following the rules, too.”

Although legal requirements vary by state, it is recommended that teens get at least 50 hours of supervised experience behind the wheel, under a variety of conditions, before setting out on their own. Other provisions of a model GDL law limit night driving and the number of non-family passengers under 21 in the car, and a violation of a serious motoring law can lead to a delay in gaining full driving privileges.

The report also looked at ways new technologies can help teens drive more safely. “Technology advances in vehicles today provide more and more protection for drivers,” said Jeff Boyer, vice president of global vehicle safety at General Motors. “But being a new driver is a real challenge, so it is especially important for teens to keep focused and always buckle up.”

Smart Strategies for Parents of Teen Drivers:

1. Make a formal agreement with your teen driver and enforce it.

2. Be a role model for safe driving by following the rules yourself.

3. Ensure your new teen driver gets at least 50 hours of experience under a variety of driving conditions.

Parents should also know the GDL law in their state and make sure its consistent with your family agreement or goes even farther.


Present Law

Change in Law

Crash Deaths Reduced by

Teen Lives Saved/Lost 2014

In California

The permit age is 15 1/2, the full license is age 16 and the night curfew is 11pm.

But if an enhanced law changed the permit age to 16, the full license to 17 and set the curfew at 10pm


39 of 186 lives saved

In Texas

The night driving curfew is midnight, the permit age is 15 and 30 hours of practice are required.

But if a new law changed the curfew to 10pm, moved the permit age to 16 and added 20 more hours or practice


44 of 242 lives saved

In Florida

The learner’s permit age is 15, at least 2 teen passengers are allowed and the night curfew is 11pm.

But if a new law raised the permit age to 16, reduced teen passengers to 1 and set the night curfew at 10pm.


22 of 111 lives saved

In South Dakota

The permit age is 14, at least 2 teen passengers are allowed and no practice hours are required

But if a new law changed the permit age to 16 and the license age were 17, reduced the teen passenger cap at 1 and required 50 hours practice


5 of 10 lives saved

Download the interactive infographic to review common risks and tips.

Download a sample family agreement.


The Safe Kids Buckle Up program is a national initiative established 19 years ago by Safe Kids and the General Motors Foundation to keep children, teens and families safe in and around cars. GM’s long term commitment to educating families has helped the child safety program evolve into one of the most comprehensive in the nation, and covers children from birth to the time they become drivers.

About Safe Kids Worldwide

Safe Kids Worldwide is a nonprofit organization working to prevent childhood injury, the number one cause of death for children in the United States. Throughout the world, almost one million children die of an injury each year, and almost every one of these tragedies is preventable. Safe Kids works with an extensive network of more than 400 coalitions in the U.S. and with partners in more than 30 countries to reduce traffic injuries, drownings, falls, burns, poisonings and more. Since 1988, Safe Kids has helped reduce the U.S. childhood death rate from unintentional injury by 60 percent. Working together, we can do much more for kids everywhere. Join our effort at

About the General Motors Foundation

Since its inception in 1976, the GM Foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to American charities, educational organizations and to disaster relief efforts worldwide. The GM Foundation focuses on supporting Education, Health and Human Services, Environment and Energy and Community Development initiatives, mainly in the communities where GM operates. Funding of the GM Foundation comes solely from GM. The last contribution to the GM Foundation was made in 2001. For more information, visit