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More restrictions on teen drivers would save lives, study says

Loathe as they are to admit it, teenage drivers tend to cause more traffic accidents than the average driver. According to federal traffic safety data, more than 81,000 people died in crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 20. And crashes involving teen drivers are the No. 1 killer of teens in the U.S.

The reasons are varied: In addition to their lack of experience, teens are more likely to be distracted, either by friends in the car or their phones or other electronic devices. It's the reason many states have bans and restrictions on teens that don't apply to older drivers. Now insurance and safety advocates are taking things a step further, saying that nationwide restrictions on teenagers' driver's licenses could save 2,000 lives and billions of dollars every year.

A National Safety Council study released on Tuesday examines the impact of these restrictions, known as graduated driver licensing. Some states already have bans for teenagers on cellphone use while driving, driving at night and limits on the number of passengers a teen can have in the car. Another universal law could prohibit teens from getting their license until they turn 18. But the number of laws in each state varies greatly, and a teen traveling from Pennsylvania into a border state might be driving into different laws without realizing it.

The death prevention projections come from a report detailing GDL laws by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which found that when a state passes a GDL with one component, there's a 4 percent reduction in deaths. Although the report was published in 2007 and uses data stretching back to 2004, the vice president of research for the National Safety Council says the study looked at lives saved year over year and is therefore statistically sound.

The council determined the cost savings of GDL laws by examining data on medical expenses, insurance and wage losses, police and ambulance costs, vehicle damage and costs to employers for lost productivity. Based on 2009 data, the council determined that if all 50 states adopted GDL laws, the savings would amount to $13.6 billion a year.

Teenagers might argue that they aren't the only inexperienced or distracted drivers out there, and it's true. But this measure to significantly reduce injury and fatal accidents could be a very big step in the right direction.

Source: MSNBC, "Study: Tougher teen driving laws would save lives, money," M. Alex Johnson, Dec. 6, 2011

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