Motor vehicle crashes are a significant cause of death and injury for teenagers in the United States. One of the main reasons for these crashes is driver error. Research has shown that young driver training before granting licenses can help lower crash rates among teens. However, a new paper published in JAMA Network Open reveals that many U.S. states do not have sufficient requirements for training young drivers before allowing them on the road.

Variation in Young Driver Training Requirements

The researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia conducted a study to catalog each U.S. state’s requirements for licensure. They found that most states have implemented Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), which places restrictions on young drivers such as the time of day they can drive and the number of passengers they can have in the car. While GDL has been effective in reducing teen crashes, the number of accidents involving adolescent drivers remains high.

It is evident that crashes decline as teens gain more driving experience, indicating that their skills are not fully developed at the time of licensure. Co-author Dan Romer emphasized that many adolescents are allowed to drive without adequate training before obtaining their provisional license. This lack of preparation can contribute to the high rate of crashes among young drivers.

The Need for Young Driver Training

In addition to GDL, some states require young driver training in the form of adult-supervised practice hours (ASP) and/or professional behind-the-wheel training (BTW). While the majority of states mandate both ASP and BTW training, there are still some states, including Pennsylvania, that do not have BTW requirements, relying solely on ASP. The effectiveness of ASP in enhancing safety is questioned, especially in states where there are no requirements for ASP for those older than 15.

Professional BTW training has the potential to significantly reduce crashes among young drivers. However, requiring BTW training may pose challenges for individuals who cannot afford it. This situation could lead some individuals to delay getting their license until they are 18 and no longer required to undergo BTW training. As a result, they may choose to drive without a license, putting themselves and others at risk.

Future Strategies for Increasing Access to Training

The authors of the study suggest that online training programs could be a viable strategy to increase access to training and reduce disparities in licensure and crashes among young drivers. However, further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of this approach. Clinicians are advised to be aware that licensed patients may not be adequately prepared for safe driving. They should recommend that parents go above and beyond state minimum requirements to ensure their child’s safety on the road.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia now offers a virtual driving assessment to teen patients in their primary care clinic. This assessment allows teens to test their driving skills safely, receive personalized feedback, and continue to improve their safe driving skills on the road. By implementing innovative approaches like virtual assessments, healthcare providers and researchers aim to reduce teen crashes and promote safe driving habits among young drivers.

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