Requiring young drivers to wait longer to get their licenses and to limit distractions is working, and teens are in fewer accidents than in past years, experts said.
In Johnson County, drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were involved in 83 traffic accidents for every 1,000 people in that age group. The state average was 98.7 accidents per 1,000 drivers in that age group in 2012, according to an annual report from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute that analyzes traffic accident data.
Young drivers were involved in 20 percent fewer accidents statewide than they were four years ago. In Johnson County, the number of accidents involving young drivers decreased 29 percent during the same time span.
The decrease is largely credited to the state’s Graduated Driver Licensing program, which was implemented in two phases during 2009 and 2010. The system is designed to increase young drivers’ experience behind the wheel while limiting distractions.
Teens no longer can get their license the day they turn 16. They have to wait six months past their 16th birthday to get a probationary license, assuming a driver education course was completed, otherwise the wait increases to nine months.
Motorists also can’t use a cellphone while driving if they are younger than 18 and can’t have any passengers under the age of 25 in the car, unless an older licensed driver is present.
The Graduated Driver License system has made a difference, said Rex Wilson, who has taught driver education courses at Indian Creek High School for about 25 years.
“Young kids have a hard time concentrating,” Wilson said. “When they get their license and then they have three or four other teenagers in the car, their concentration is gone. These rules give them a chance to not have those types of distractions.”
Most young drivers are confident they have quick reflexes. But without experience behind the wheel, even quick reflexes won’t prevent an accident, he said.
A young driver taking his friends to get a bite to eat or go shopping in Johnson County may travel on narrow rural roads, busy four-lane state highways or a fast-moving interstate, all within the span of a few minutes.
“They don’t realize how quick things can change in a heartbeat,” he said. “You may see those brake lights in front of you, but young kids don’t realize how quick you can close that distance.”
Fatalities among young drivers have decreased steadily in recent years, with 121 fatal accidents in Indiana in 2012, compared with an average of 173 from 2004 to 2006.
Sheriff Doug Cox has been called to multiple fatalities involving young drivers in his career. The images of those scenes aren’t easily forgotten, he said, so a drop in fatalities among young drivers in recent years is noticeable.
Cox had concerns when some local schools stopped offering a driver’s education course that young drivers would be less prepared for driving. But private driver education schools still offer classes, and he thinks the new license requirements are working to decrease accidents.