Fatal teen crashes are declining in Texas faster than in any other state, and a recent study links the trend to the adoption of the graduated driver license (GDL) law in 2002 and the growth of the Teens in the Driver Seat program. But Texas’ teen crash rates are outpacing even those of the other 36 states with similar laws on a number of counts.
*The number of fatal crashes per 10,000 teenage drivers fell by 32.5 percent, the most of any of the states measured. Texas was also the only state to record a steady drop in the teen fatal crash rate for five straight years.
*The actual number of teen drivers in fatal crashes also dropped nearly 33 percent in Texas, while the average number for the nation's other large states increased slightly.
*The improvement in Texas is three times greater than what should be expected from GDL laws alone. Benefits from GDL laws are typically limited to 16-year-old drivers, but significant improvement in Texas was seen in older teen drivers, as well.
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*The decline in the fatal crash rate for teen drivers was more than five times greater than for the balance of Texas drivers.
The GDL law that reined in notoriously intractable teen driving practices eases teens into driving, rather than handing them the keys and setting them free on the road after the complete a test. Applicants under age 18 must have a permit for six months before getting a license, and prohibits certain things after they receive their license. They can’t have more than one passenger under the age of 21 who is not a family member in the car, drive between midnight and 5 a.m., or use a wireless communication device while driving.
The law only applies to applicants under age 18.
However, many believe the law itself would not have been effective without the complementary program.
"We believe Teens in the Driver Seat is making a real difference in Texas," said Albert Torres, Jr. of Laredo, a member of the TDS Teen Advisory Board. "Laws are important, but they can't do the job alone, so young people have to be part of the solution, too."
Holly LaFon has written and worked for various local publications including D Magazine and Examiner.