Tennessee Takes Gradual Approach to Reducing Teen Driving Deaths

June 17, 2010

A state official says Tennessee has made some headway in reducing traffic fatalities among teens.

Phillip Doss, director of the state’s Offices of Research and Educational Accountability, commented to The Tennessean newspaper as a national campaign pushes for 16 as the minimum driving age.

In Tennessee, teens can apply for a learner’s permit six months after their 15th birthday. They can be licensed at 16 with restrictions.

The state ranked sixth in the nation for fatal crashes involving teen drivers in a national study by Allstate Insurance in 2008.

A recent state study of the effectiveness of Tennessee’s graduated driver’s license law concluded that states with higher minimum driving ages have lower rates of teen driving-related accidents and deaths.

“This is a major public health problem,” said Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of the nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety group, which is lobbying for a higher minimum driving age.

“Teens are dying on our roads. This happens every day, in every community in the country.”

In an effort to keep young drivers safer, Tennessee introduced a graduated driver’s license law in 2000 to ease teens into the responsibilities of driving and to limit the number of unsupervised hours they can spend on the road.

After getting a learner’s permit, drivers at age 16 can move up to an intermediate license that allows them to drive unsupervised, with no more than one passenger, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

In the decade since the graduated licensing law took effect, it has had some success in reducing the number of accidents, according to a study released this month by the state comptroller’s office.

There has been a drop in the number of traffic crashes involving young drivers. In 2005, there were 136 accidents for every 1,000 drivers ages 15 to 24 on the road. By 2009, the number had dropped to 111 crashes for every thousand young drivers.

“We’ve been aware for some time that automobile accidents were the leading cause of death for young people,” said Phillip Doss, director of the state’s Offices of Research and Educational Accountability, which studied the effect of the graduated driver licensing law.

“On paper, you’d have to say it looks pretty good,” he said, noting that the number of fatal accidents involving teen drivers has generally been trending down over the past decade, although the most recent statistics show fatalities still tragically high.

In 2000, the year graduated driver’s licenses became law, there were 189 fatal crashes involving teen drivers in Tennessee. In 2008, the death toll was 184, according to the most recent data available from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration

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