It’s no accident that teen driver fatalities have decreased more than a third in the past five years. And on a related note, it’s no accident that California was recently ranked the country’s safest state for teen drivers by US News and World Report. The common thread among these two morsels of good news? Graduated license laws for teen drivers.
Based on new information from the National Institute of Mental Health, scientists and some safety experts have concluded that at age 16, teen brains have simply not achieved the full maturity essential for driving. In short, the parts of the brain that are responsible for motor skills and emotional maturity are the last to develop, reaching full maturity around age 25. See our brain development infographic for a visualization and a more detailed explanation of how the brain matures.
This research adds significant support for the movement to strengthen graduated license laws for teenagers. Such laws gradually bestow driving rights upon teenagers as they reach important milestones. In California, for example, teenagers can drive at 16 but do not earn unrestricted driving privileges until age 18.
Overall, teens are dying less behind the wheel because state governments are also taking teen driving more seriously in matters besides graduated license laws. “It’s not that teens are becoming safer,” said Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “It’s that state laws enacted in the last 15 years are taking teens out of the most hazardous driving situations.” Rader points to laws curbing driving at night and with other teenagers as the most important.
Graduated license laws have already caught on and are law in 49 states and the District of Colombia. Only Wyoming has not implemented the safety laws, which helps to explain why the small western state has the country’s worst driving record (60 of 100,000 teens killed in accidents). But the brain development information explains why laws are so necessary and that states should continue to promote safety when it comes to teenagers.