How Massachusetts Cut Its Rate of Teen Driving Accidents

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Approximately six million car accidents take place in the United States each year, and teen drivers are three times as likely, per mile driven, to be in fatal car accidents than drivers aged 20 and older. But a new study in Massachusetts suggests that setting tougher rules for night driving can reduce teens’ risk of being involved in serious or fatal crashes.

“Our research shows that restricting unsupervised nighttime driving until age 18 years, with significant penalties for violating the law, contributed to a significant reduction in the crash rate in junior operators and, importantly, reduced crashes that occurred at night and those that caused serious injury,” study author Shantha Rajaratnam said in a news release.

After a high-profile incident in which a drowsy teen driver hit and killed soon-to-be-married Army Reserve major Robert Raneri in 2007, Massachusetts implemented several new regulations for drivers under 18, including stiff penalties for driving unsupervised at night — involving license suspensions, instead of nominal fines — and mandatory education on the dangers of driving while fatigued.

Hoping to assess the efficacy of those measures, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospitals analyzed data from crashes reported to the police between March 31, 2006, and March 30, 2012.

They found that serious and fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers fell by a full 40% after the implementation of the new rules.

Car crashes involving drivers in that age group fell 19% overall, and nighttime crashes fell by 29%.

While drivers of all ages should be wary of driving fatigued, teens are particularly vulnerable to the effects of sleep deprivation and are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel, according to the researchers. They’re also less likely to pull over for a nap when they need one.

The full study has been published in the June issue of the journal Health Affairs.

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