A University of Iowa study finds the state’s graduated driver’s license program, in place for ten years now, could use some tweaking to prevent crashes and to save lives. John Lundell, deputy director of the U-of-I’s Injury Prevention Research Center, says Iowa was among the first states to launch a GDL program, but now changes are needed.

Lundell says they’re finding teen drivers are much more susceptible to distractions if classmates are along for the ride. “We do not have any type of restriction in the first year of driving for new teens that have passengers in their cars,” Lundell says. “That’s one of the greatest risk factors that science has shown. For a teen driver to be involved in a crash, it most often happens when he or she has one or two additional teenage passengers in the vehicle with them.”

Lundell says the center’s research is finding learner’s permits should be valid for a full 12 months, not just six. “Currently, Iowa’s law only requires a six-month learner’s permit prior to getting the full license for a teen driver,” Lundell says. “What this has the effect of doing is, a teen could get their learner’s permit in the spring and then the six months would end in the fall and they wouldn’t have any experience driving under the permit during Iowa’s hazardous winter driving conditions.”

In the past five years, 162 Iowa teen drivers, between the ages of 14 and 17, have lost their lives in traffic accidents. The number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths rose 11% during that time. Lundell says another way to start reducing the number of teen deaths would be to place tighter restrictions on teens’ night-time driving, as the number of fatalities rises after the sun goes down.

“Teen drivers are particularly at risk for crashes that occur late at night, after 11 o’clock P.M,” Lundell says. “Currently, Iowa’s law is at 12:30. Newly-licensed drivers can drive up until 12:30 at night and the science shows that should really be moved back to 10 or 11 P.M.”

Through grants, Lundell says the center hopes to educate Iowa’s pediatricians and lawmakers on current GDL laws and changes that can be made to improve teen driving safety.