Iowa’s “graduated” driver’s license for beginning motorists seems to be improving the accident rate among young drivers. Scott Falb, a Driver Safety Specialist with the state Transportation Department, says it’s been six years since the state adopted a system of issuing limited licenses to teens.
They earn more complete driving privileges as they continue to drive — hopefully — without incident.
Falb says it’s changed the way teens are driving. In 1998, the last year under the old licensing system, 16-year-olds had 16,206 crashes in Iowa — and by 2003, the last year for which we have complete data, that total had fallen to 4,187 — down by one-third. Falb confirms that crashes among the young drivers continue to go down every year. He also tracks convictions for moving violations. He explains why traffic tickets handed out to drivers are also an important area to track. With 16-year-olds, in 1998 in the last year of the old driver’s-license system, there were 13,720 such convictions, compared with 8,121 in 2003. Those are violations like speeding and running stop signs or lights, the kind of ticket that will not only lead to losing a driver’s license, but also indicate the driver’s more likely to have a crash. Other factors help, too, like re-designing roadways and signs to help motorists be safer. Falb says the D-O-T has a new study coming out soon that shows an interesting development in driver safety.
Compared with older drivers, who have a lower rate of incidents to begin with, the 16-year-olds have improved their number of crashes and violations by a greater rate. The 1999 law only allows teenagers to be on the road between certain hours, and it requires them to go a whole year without an accident or ticket before they can get full driving privileges. Falb says given the numbers, it’s clear Iowa should keep the graduated driver’s-license law — and he says looking at other states with even stricter laws, Iowa might want to follow suit. We currently forbid teens from driving alone between 12:30 A.M. till 5 A.M., but states with even stricter curfews, which don’t let teens drive after 9, ten or 11-o’clock, have seen an even more dramatic reduction in crashes than Iowa. Some also restrict the number of passengers. Falb says there’s a link between the number of passengers in a car and the likelihood of the driver getting a ticket or being in a crash. Teachers and cops say teens involved in fatal crashes are victims of not only their lack of experience but are distracted from concentrating on the driving skills they do have.