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  2. Ways To Promote Safe Driving For Youth

Ways to Promote Safe Driving for Youth

The teen driver safety record in the United States has improved over recent years. Yet the United States’ decline still lags behind many other countries that had similar traffic death rates approximately twenty years ago. For example, death rates in Australia, Canada, and France have been reduced by as much as 60 percent since the early 1980s (World Health Organization, 2009). The decreases in crashes, injuries, and deaths in these countries are due in part to stronger road traffic policies and a commitment to effective strategies to reduce crashes. These strategies include more stringent seat belt laws, lower blood alcohol content laws, and more comprehensive motorcycle helmet laws.

By examining the historical trends of fatal crashes for teen drivers compared to adult drivers, Shope and Bingham (2008) found seven categories of influence for teen drivers including driving ability, developmental factors, behavioral factors, personality factors, demographics, the perceived environment, and the driving environment. Because of the complexity of these factors, they suggest that interventions to address and prevent teen driving accidents must be multi-tiered and comprehensive. To address the complexity of factors around teen driving safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests an approach which focuses on increasing seat belt use, implementing graduated driver licensing, reducing teens' access to alcohol, and increasing the focus on parental responsibility (2010).

Parent and Teen Communication

Parents need to talk to their kids early and often about safe driving, even before the child is old enough to drive. They should reinforce what they say by modeling safe driving practices (NHTSA, 2010). In the United States, parents are primarily responsible for teaching young people to drive. Research has shown inconclusive results connecting the amount of time a teen spends practicing driving under supervised conditions and their later crash rate. Regardless of the time spent in supervised instruction, there appears to be a substantial learning curve during the first months of independent driving (Simons-Morton & Ouimet, 2006). Despite this, research suggests that parents can help limit crashes, injuries, and deaths by instituting rules and agreements that reinforce graduated driver licensing requirements and limit driving in risky conditions (Simons-Morton & Ouimet, 2006). Both NHTSA (2010) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2010) suggest developing formal agreements or contracts that clearly explain all driving related rules and the consequences for breaking them. View an example of a parent-teen driving agreement.

Promotion of Seat Belt Use

Teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use in all age groups, and the majority of crashes in 2006 (58 percent) involved youth who were not wearing seat belts (NHTSA, 2010). Efforts focused on encouraging youth to buckle up are important. Encouraging youth to view wearing a seat belt as a social norm and establishing strict enforcement guidelines help to promote seat belt use (NHTSA, 2010). The type of seat belt law in a state is associated with the seat belt use rate for teen and adult drivers alike. States with strong primary enforcement seat belt laws that allow police officers to stop drivers solely for seat belt-related violations have higher seat belt use rates (88 percent) than states with secondary enforcement seat belt laws that only allow police officers to provide seat belt citations if they stop the driver for a different offense (79 percent) (CDC, 2011). Parents can also help to encourage seat belt use by including it as a condition in the parent-teen driving agreements discussed above (NHTSA, 2010).

Graduated Driver Licensing Systems

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems are designed to delay full licensure while allowing new drivers time to gain driving skills under low risk conditions. GDL systems consist of three stages: the learner’s permit stage which provides an extended time period of supervised driving; the intermediate or provisional stage that limits independent driving under high risk conditions, such as at night or with teen passengers; and, finally, full licensure. Examples of components and restrictions that states should consider include: (NHTSA 2008a)

Stage 1: Learner’s Permit

Stage 2: Intermediate (Provisional) License

Stage 3: Full Licensure


Completion of Stage 1

Completion of Stage 2

States set minimum age for a learner’s permit at no younger than age 16

State sets minimum age of 16.5

State sets minimum age of 18 for lifting passenger and nighttime restrictions

Pass vision and knowledge test, including rules of the road, signs, and signals

Pass a behind-the-wheel road test


Complete basic driver training

Complete advanced driver education training (safer driving decision-making, risk education, etc.)


Licensed adult over the age of 21 required in the vehicle at all times

Licensed adult required in the vehicle from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.


Teenage-passenger restrictions

Teenage-passenger restrictions: not more than one teenage passenger for the first 12 months of intermediate license. Afterward limit the number of passengers to two until age 18


Permit is visually distinctive from other driver licenses

Provisional license is visually distinctive from a regular license


Must remain crash- and conviction-free for at least 6 months to advance to the next stage

Must remain crash- and conviction-free for at least 12 consecutive months to advance to the next stage


Parental certification of 30-50 practice hours

Supervised practice



Driving improvement actions are initiated at lower point level than for fully licensed drivers


No use of portable electronic communication and entertainment devices


While no states have a graduated licensing program that includes all of the components above, 49 states and the District of Columbia have a three-stage system. The only state that continues to implement a two-stage system (learner’s permit and full license) is North Dakota (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 2011).

GDL systems have been shown to be effective. Despite differences in methodology, a number of studies looking at the effectiveness of GDL in the United States have shown that the crash rates in states that have instituted these systems have declined by as much as 10 to 30 percent (Baker, Chen, & Li, 2007; Chen, Baker, & Li, 2006; Zhu et al., 2009; Hallmark et al., 2008; Shope, 2007). For example, McCartt, Teoh, Fields, Braitman and Hellinga (2010) found that, compared to states with GDL laws rated poor by IIHS, states with ratings of good resulted in 44 percent lower crash rates for 15-year-olds, 41 percent lower crash rates for 16-year-olds, and 19 percent lower crash rates for 17-year-olds. Specifically they found the following led to significantly lower fatal crash rates:

  • Delaying the age of full licensure (fatal crash rates were 13 percent lower when licensure was delayed for a full year, e.g. from 16 to 17)
  • Enacting restrictions on passengers (fatal crash rates were 21 percent lower for 15- to 17-year-olds when passengers were prohibited from driving with novice drivers)
  • Restricting driving at night (fatal crash rates were 18 percent lower when novice drivers were restricted from driving after 9pm)

While not part of GDL systems, stringent seat belt and alcohol laws can also help to limit crashes.

Driver Education

According to the Novice Teen Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards “The goal of driver education and training is to transfer knowledge, develop skills, and enhance the disposition of the teen, so he/she can perform as a safe and competent driver, thereby contributing to the reduction of crashes, fatalities and injuries” (NHTSA, n.d., p.3). Specifically, driver education focuses on

  • learning the rules of the road,
  • gaining basic car control skills, and
  • learning safe driving skills (National Research Council, Institute of Medicine, and Transportation Research Board, 2007).

Driver education classes can vary in scope and focus, but typically constitute 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of supervised driving. The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Administration (contracted by NHTSA), with the support of 35 driver education experts, developed standards and curricula for driver education to assist states in planning and implementing more uniform and effective driver education programs. The standards were first developed in 2000 and were updated in 2005 (NHTSA, 2009).

Due to the difficulty of conducting true evaluations of driver education programs (NHTSA, 2009), many studies have failed to support the link between completion of driver’s education and reductions in motor vehicle crashes (Simmons-Morton & Ouimet, 2006). Still, there is growing consensus that driver education programs can help provide drivers with knowledge about the rules of the road and basic car control skills (Compton, 2006). Despite the mixed results, driver education remains a standard practice in many states (NHTSA, 2008b). It is important to note that driver education is not available in all schools and that participation in driver education may demand an additional cost, therefore limiting access to some young drivers. In addition to school-based driver education programs, youth may also participate in driver education through commercial driving schools. In a review of driver education trends, Lonero (2008) found that driver education is becoming more privatized and that computer- and web-based driver education programs are becoming popular as a low cost alternative for many students. While driver’s education alone may not be effective in reducing the number of crashes for young drivers, it may be an effective mechanism for teaching driving in conjunction with other methods. NHTSA (2008a) has suggested that it is a key component of the graduated licensing system.


Novice Teen Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards (PDF, 193 pages)
The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA) provides this document designed to guide all novice teen driver education and training programs in states that aim to provide consistent, high-quality training. 

Graduated Driver Licensing
This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides links to state-specific GDL information.

Parents Are the Key to Safe Teen Drivers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Parents Are the Key campaign provides resources and information for parents about teen driving and what they can do to help their teen become a safe driver.

Protect the Ones You Love: Child Injuries Are Preventable — Road Traffic Injuries
This CDC initiative was developed to raise parents' awareness about the leading causes of child injury in the United States and how they can be prevented.

Teen Drivers (CDC)
This CDC website provides fact sheets, research and activities, and blogs related to teen driver safety.

Teen Drivers (DOT/NHTSA)
This U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website provides information, talking points, media tools, collateral materials, and various other marketing materials regarding a comprehensive approach to teen driver safety.


Baker, S. P., Chen, L-H, & Li, G. (2007). Nationwide review of graduated driver licensing. Washington, DC: AAA. Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2009). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Protect the ones you love: Child injuries are preventable. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/SafeChild/Road_Traffic_Injuries/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Vital Signs: Nonfatal, Motor Vehicle--Occupant Injuries (2009) and Seat Belt Use (2008) Among Adults --- United States. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5951a3.htm?s_cid=mm5951a3_w

Chen, L-H, Baker, S. P., & Li, G. (2006). Graduated driver licensing programs and fatal crashes of 16-year-old drivers: A national evaluation. Pediatrics, 118(1), 56-62.

Hallmark, S. L., Veneziano, D. A., Falb, S., Pawlovich, M., & Witt, D. (2008). Evaluation of Iowa's graduated driver's licensing program. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 40, 1401-05.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (2011). Effective Dates of Graduated Licensing Laws. Retrieved from http://www.iihs.org/laws/pdf/gdl_effective_dates.pdf (PDF, 10 pages)

Lonero, L. P. (2008). Trends in driver education and training. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 35, 316-323.

McCartt, A.T., Teoh, E.R., Fields, M., Braitman, K.A., & Hellinga, L.A. (2010). Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention, 11(3), 240-248.

National Research Council, Institute of Medicine, and Transportation Research Board. (2007). Preventing teen motor crashes: Contributions from the behavioral and social sciences, workshop peport. Program Committee for a Workshop on Contributions from the Behavioral and Social Sciences in Reducing and Preventing Teen Motor Crashes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11814&page=R1

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (n.d). Novice teen driver education and training administrative standards. Retrieved from http://nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/Traffic%20Injury%20Control/Teen%20Driver/files/TeenDriverETAS-1.pdf (PDF, 152 pages)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2010). Teen drivers: A comprehensive approach to teen driver safety. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.gov/Teen-Drivers

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2009). Evaluating driver education in America. Traffic Safety Facts: Traffic Tech – Technology Transfer Series, 367. Retrieved from http://nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/Communication%20&%20Consumer%20Information/Traffic%20Tech%20Publications/Associated%20Files/tt367.pdf (PDF, 2 pages)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2008). Graduated driver licensing system. Traffic Safety Facts. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/Traffic%20Injury%20Control/Teen%20Driver/files/810888GradDriverLicense.pdf (PDF, 4 pages)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Office of Behavioral Safety Research. (2008a). Teen driver crashes: A report to Congress. Washington, DC: Compton, R. P., & Ellison-Potter, P. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/Traffic%20Injury%20Control/Articles/Associated%20Files/811005.pdf (PDF, 16 pages)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2008b). Motor vehicle occupant protection facts. Washington, DC: NHTSA. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/Traffic%20Injury%20Control/Articles/Associated%20Files/810654.pdf (PDF, 28 pages)

Simons‐Morton,B., & Ouimet, M. C. (2006). Parent involvement in novice teen driving: A review of the literature. Injury Prevention, 12(1), i30-i37. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2563441/pdf/i30.pdf (PDF, 8 pages)

Shope, J. T. (2007). Graduated driver licensing: Review of evaluation results since 2002. Journal of Safety Research, 38 (2), 165-175.

Shope, J. T., & Bingham, C. R. (2008). Teen driving: Motor-vehicle crashes and factors that contribute. American Journal of Prevention Medicine,35(3S, S261-S271).

World Health Organization. (2009). Global status report on road safety: Time for action. Geneva: Author.

Zhu, M., Chu, H., & Li, G. (2009). Effects of graduated driver licensing on licensure and traffic injury rates in upstate New York. Accident Analysis and Prevention 41, 531-35.

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