Oklahoma Fatalities Drop Since Teen Licenses Limited

February 23, 2010

Since the passage of Oklahoma’s graduated driver’s license law in 1999, the number of fatality crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers has dropped from 75 in 2000 to a low of 39 in 2008.

The numbers include wrecks that killed teens and others where a 16- or 17-year-old was behind the wheel of at least one of the vehicles involved.

Although the 2009 totals are not available, officials say preliminary data indicates there were 38 fatal crashes last year involving drivers ages 16 and 17, which would be a new low.

“This is really good news,” said Alice Collinsworth, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. “We’re very happy to see statistically that the GDL is having the effect of saving lives.”

The total number of crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers dropped from 11,837 in 2000 to 7,597 in 2008, Collinsworth said.

The data released this month involved a study of drivers ages 16 to 17 who were involved in crashes after the creation of the graduated driver’s license, which lawmakers passed in 1999 and amended and strengthened in 2005.

The law as of 2005 allows 16-year-olds who have had a learner’s permit for six months to obtain an intermediate license, if they have passed a driver-education coursee, have at least 40 hours behind the wheel, have no traffic convictions and have passed the driving skills examination.

With the intermediate license, a 16-year-old can drive except during the hours between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., or any time when accompanied by a licensed driver who is at least 21.

At the age of 161/2, after six months with an intermediate license, teenagers can obtain unrestricted licenses if they have no convictions on their driving records.

Without driver’s education, teens go through the graduated driver’s license phases but must wait a year longer before their intermediate license becomes an unrestricted license.

Scott Watkins, Highway Safety Office director, said the study shows the law is having the intended effect.

“This is great news for Oklahomans,” Watkins said. “Our goal is to make our roadways as safe as possible for people of all ages, and the statistics show that the graduated driver’s license is saving lives.”

The new highway safety report shows that, from 2000 to 2008, 16- and 17-year-olds made up 3 percent of the licensed drivers in the state, but drivers from that age group accounted for 7.1 percent of the crashes reported in Oklahoma and were involved in 4.7 percent of fatal crashes.

“While we are pleased with the results we’ve seen from the GDL laws,” Collinsworth said, “it also shows we still need to focus on other issues to keep teens and other drivers safe on the road.”

Most of the issues cited in further reducing crashes involved avoiding distractions, using seat belts and obeying the speed limit. Of the 169 teen drivers killed in crashes during the nine-year review period, highway safety officials found that 58.6 percent were not wearing seat belts.

In 2007 and 2008, the last two years of the study, highway safety officials found that more than 2 percent of the total number of crashes in the age group involved drinking and driving, with twice as many 17-year-olds drinking and driving as 16-year-olds.

Safety officials also found that during the last two years of the study, the primary contributing factor of more than half the wrecks in this age group was driving at an “unsafe speed.”

“Failure to yield” and “inattention” were also significant contributing factors, the study’s results showed.

“If everyone would take extra diligence when behind the wheel, avoid distractions, buckle up and obey the speed limits, we’d have even safer roads in Oklahoma,” Collinsworth said.

Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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