Most of you have read the series of articles in USA Today concerning teen traffic deaths. As we all know, this is a problem that requires many solutions. Unfortunately, the writers and contributors to these stories believe the quick fix is to change the licensing age to 17 or 18 years of age. It is obvious that if you don’t drive, you will not be killed as a driver, but it doesn’t change the high probability of dying as a passenger.
The problem with statistics and reporting of statistics is that writers mislead the reader. Highway fatalities are a grave concern to all of us. Using statistics inaccurately to push a cause does not solve the problem. Most researchers and traffic safety professionals illustrate the statistical problem associated with teen drivers. As an example, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people in 2003, the 16 to 19 age group had a death rate of 29.1. This same year the 20 to 24 age group had a death rate of 27.0 and males in this age group had a higher death rate than males in the 16 to 19 age group.
This special report in USA Today also reports that 1 in 5 16-year-olds crash their cars within the first year. This also means that 4 in 5 16-year-olds do not crash.
The headline in the USA Today on March 1, 2005 was Deadly Teen Auto Crashes Show a Pattern. “The most dangerous drivers: 16-year-olds and most deadly single vehicle teen crashes involve night driving or at least one passenger 16 to 19.” On the front of Section B the following question is asked: 16 is it too young to drive a car? USA Today Poll found: 3 in 5 say 16-years-old is too young to have a license. Another headline read: “On an average day, 10 teens are killed in teen driven autos.” In 2003 USA Today reports that 3,500 teenagers died in traffic crashes.
All of these statistics when used in context are correct. However, when the researchers and the writers say that the solution to the teen fatality problem is to raise the legal driving age, they are missing the point. In 2003 there were 937 16-year-old drivers killed in traffic crashes. This new driving age does nothing for the other 2,563 teens killed in 2003.
This series of articles did not mention the number of 16-year-old individuals in the U.S. population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there were 3,975,021 16-year-olds in 2000. An estimate for 2003 is 4,010,850. The Insurance Institute reports that 31 percent of the 16-year-olds received driver licenses in 2003. The Federal Highway Administration – Highway Statistics 2003 reports that 1,262,899 16-year-olds were licensed to drive in 2003. By comparing these figures we see they do agree.
In 2003 there were 937 16-year-olds killed in teen crashes. Does it seem realistic to prevent 1,262,899 16-year-olds from obtaining a drivers license that will assist them with opportunities to: go to school, participate in extracurricular school activities, go to work and be involved in other social activities. Their solution of raising the driving age makes little sense.
The solution is not preventing license use, but to better train and use stricter licensing tests before issuing a drivers license to a 16-year-old or any new driver. Training does not exist today for most teenagers who desire a driver’s license. When training is available, it is often inadequate. We need to look at the real problem and not the confusing statistical analysis of critics of young drivers.
Allen Robinson, CEO, ADTSEA