AIA Commends Md. Legislature for Forceful Response to Epidemic of Teen Auto Crashes

April 13, 2005

The American Insurance Association (AIA) on Wednesday commended the Maryland legislature for passing of a host of bills targeting teen driver safety.

The bills include HB 393, which bars novice teen drivers from carrying teenage passengers who are not family members, HB 394, which prohibits teens from using cell phones while driving during the 18-month provisional license period, and HB 395, which increases the amount of training required for young drivers.

“In 2002, 5,933 teenagers died in the U.S. from motor vehicle crash injuries. Such injuries are by far the leading public health problem for young people 13-19 years old,” stated David Snyder, AIA vice president and assistant general counsel. “The bills passed by the Maryland legislature are a forceful response to the recent epidemic of tragic teenage fatal crashes in the state. These bills will be especially helpful given the congested and high-risk driving environment that characterizes teenage driving conditions in most of Maryland.”

Traditionally, states have required beginning teenage drivers to have very little experience before obtaining licenses that let them drive when and where they wanted. In 1995, only 30 states required a learner’s permit, and only 11 required the permit to be held for a minimum period, ranging from 14 to 90 days.

That is changing as more and more states are implementing graduated licensing programs, which are systems designed to phase-in young beginners to full driving privileges as they mature and develop their driving skills. Maryland is now strengthening its graduated licensing program for young drivers to bring it up to the level of the other states with effective graduated licensing programs.

“Teenage drivers have very high rates of both fatal and nonfatal crashes compared with drivers of other ages – immaturity and lack of driving experience are the main reasons,” explained Snyder. “Compared with older drivers, teenagers as a group are more willing to take risks and less likely to use safety belts. They also are more likely than older drivers to underestimate the dangers associated with hazardous situations and less able to cope with such dangers.”

The passage of HB 393 is reportedly crucial because the presence of teenage passengers in the car of beginning teenage drivers increases the risk of crashing compared with driving alone; the more teenage passengers, the greater the risk, whether it is day or night. Increased risk with passengers present is thought to be largely the result of distraction and risk-taking factors. In vehicles with other occupants, there is reportedly often considerable verbal interaction, music playing, and sometimes physical interactions. At the beginning stages of driving, inattentiveness to the task can have serious consequences.

“Sixty-one percent of teenage passenger deaths in 2002 occurred in crashes in which another teenager was driving,” said Snyder. “Teenagers far exceed all other age groups in terms of per capita deaths as both drivers and passengers, but their passenger fatality rates are much more extreme compared with those of older drivers. Among teenage drivers, 16 year-olds have by far the highest rates of teenage passenger deaths in their vehicles per licensed driver and per mile driven.”

“The seriousness of teenage driver crashes has been recognized for decades, and most public policies have had little impact on the problem,” said Snyder. “Maryland legislators are to be commended for filling in the gaps in the graduated licensing system, to try to reduce teenage crashes and the deaths and injuries they cause.”

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