Good news is always welcome.
A new report by the Texas Transportation Institute found that the state’s rate of fatal teen crashes is dropping faster here than anywhere. Researchers looked at 37 states that put restrictions on teen drivers’ licenses and found Texas is alone in seeing the number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes drop for five consecutive years.
“Texas is doing a better job than any of the other states,” said Texas Transportation Institute researcher Bernie Fette, co-author of the 46-page report released Monday. Fette credited not just the license restrictions but also programs in high schools to get kids focused on safe road behavior.
Since 2002, when 625 teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes, Texas’ numbers have come down each year. In 2007, 419 fatal crashes involved teen drivers.
Teen driving risks have been on the minds of lawmakers in Texas at least since 2002, when new rules for young drivers known as graduated driver’s licenses took effect.
Since then, new Texas teen drivers have had to spend six months with a learner’s permit before getting a license. After that, they must spend another six months with other restrictions, including a prohibition against driving between midnight and 5 a.m.
This year, lawmakers extended those probationary periods to 12 months each, and outlawed the use of cellphones by young drivers.
But Fette said his research suggests that tougher laws are only part of the reason for Texas’ success in making fatal crashes involving teen drivers less frequent.
After all, Texas’ laws have not been as strong as those in many other states. And some states with graduated driver’s license laws actually saw their fatal crash rate go up, Fette said.
In Texas, he said, 300 school districts are implementing a first-in-the-country program called Teens in the Driver Seat, an initiative that gets teens talking to their peers about the risks of driving. Preliminary research says the program, begun in 2003, has worked.
“The [graduated-license] law is a necessary foundation,” Fette said. “But that law can be reinforced or made stronger through a peer influence program like Teens in the Driver Seat. If you have a combination of the two, as Texas does, what you have is a really good one-two punch.”