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Illinois Teen Car Accidents Decrease Contrary to National Trend

It has now been three years since Illinois strengthened driver licensing laws to address concerns of teen car accidents. However, new data released this month indicates that states with graduated driver licensing (GDL), like Illinois, may only be postponing the problem of car accident fatalities.

Graduated Driver Licensing in Illinois

The GDL program in Illinois initially requires new drivers, ages 15 and 16, to hold a learner's permit for a minimum of nine months. Before taking the driving test, teens with learner's permits are required to take 50 hours of supervised training, including 10 hours at night.

Those 16 and 17-year-olds that become licensed drivers enter an intermediate stage where several restrictions apply. These include limits on the amount of younger passengers and restrictions on nighttime driving.

These requirements have resulted in some teens waiting until they turn 18 to obtain their license. License applicants 18 or older do not have to take a drivers' education course or face any restrictions on passengers or nighttime driving.

Increase in Car Accidents for New 18-year-old Drivers

The national study, published this September in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found a 68 percent drop in car accident fatalities for those ages 16 to 17 in states with GDL. When 18 year-olds begin driving without restrictions, however, their fatality rate was higher than 18 year-olds in those states without GDL.

More specifically, looking at motor vehicle accidents from 1986-2007, the analysis showed a 26 percent decrease in fatal accidents for 16-year-olds, but a 12 percent increase for drivers who were age 18. One teen from South Elgin summed it up, "You're eliminating one problem, but you're creating one later on."

Illinois, however, seems to be going against this national trend. Fatal accidents for 18-year-olds have decreased since the implementation of the GDL program. Experts are not sure why the trend in Illinois is so different, but pointed to the state's high rate of seat-belt use and Operation Teen Safe Driving program as possible factors.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Illinois safe driving task force to target high fatality rate of ne 18-year-old drivers, Ted Gregory, 28 September 2011

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