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Teens who hold off on getting a driver’s license may lack key safety instruction, study shows

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New Haven, CT — Many teens are waiting to get their driver’s license – and likely missing out on important driver safety training as a result, say researchers from Yale University.

The researchers reviewed 2006-2016 data from the National Institutes of Health’s NEXT Generation Health Study and found that at least 70% of teens eligible for a driver’s license delayed getting it for at least a year. Additionally, the percentage of high school seniors with a driver’s license decreased to 72 from 81 over the course of the study period.

That delay often means that novice drivers “age out” of restrictions meant to increase motor vehicle safety, such as Graduated Driver Licensing programs. GDL programs – some version of which exists in all 50 states – typically require 16-year-old drivers to operate a vehicle for a certain number of hours with a parent or guardian supervising. The programs often have restrictions on driving late at night, driving with young passengers in the vehicle and operating a vehicle while using a cellphone. These limits usually are no longer in place for drivers 18 and older, no matter how little experience they have behind the wheel.

A Yale press release notes that GDL programs have resulted in 74% and 61% decreases in fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers, respectively, since the mid-1990s.

One solution, according to lead study author Federico E. Vaca, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Yale Developmental Neurocognitive Driving Simulation Research Center (DrivSim Lab), is placing restrictions on novice drivers of any age before giving them a license – a measure that’s implemented in the United Kingdom and Australia.

“Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young people,” Vaca said in the release. “It’s important that they get sufficient supervised practice driving as well as gradual exposure to a variety of driving conditions and learn how to safely navigate them.”

The study was published online July 2 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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