Emory Report
April 11, 2005
Volume 58, Number 26


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April 11, 2005
Study: 'Tough Love' law helps save teenage drivers' lives

BY richard quartarone

A team of Emory researchers has found that Georgia’s strong teen-driving laws are saving lives and helping teenagers grow into safer adult drivers.

In an effort to protect the state’s youngest, most inexperienced drivers, in 1997 the Georgia General Assembly passed the Teenage and Adult Driver Responsibility Act (TADRA). Last year a group of Emory researchers evaluated the impact of TADRA on teen driving statewide and found that, after its enactment, rates of fatal crashes involving teen drivers dropped dramatically.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue praised TADRA’s positive impact, as well as the Emory researchers. “Thanks to a recent study conducted by the Emory Center for Injury Control, titled ‘Tough Love,’ we know that the Teen Driver Act has significantly changed the way young motorists earn and maintain the privilege of driving,” Perdue said.

A comprehensive package of teen driving laws, TADRA introduced graduated licensing, whereby a provisional driver’s license restricts late-night driving and the number of passengers allowed in the vehicle. The law also has provisions to deter excessive speeding, consumption of alcohol while driving and other dangerous driving behaviors. Teen drivers who violate key provisions of TADRA automatically lose their license for six months, then must reapply and pass a driver’s test to get it back.

“Trauma from automobile-related injuries is a major cause of death in the state, and the leading cause of death among Georgia teens. Young drivers are involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes at much higher rates than older drivers,” said Art Kellermann, professor and chair of emergency medicine and a member of the study team.

Emory’s is the first study to examine TADRA’s long-term impact. To determine if any change in fatal crash rates was due to the law and not to broader societal changes (such as more crashworthy automobiles), the research team compared Georgia’s experience under TADRA with those of three neighboring states: Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina.

The team found that TADRA produced a dramatic decrease in fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers. In the first five-and-a-half years after the law was enacted, the rate of fatal crashes in this age group dropped 36.8 percent from the same time period immediately before enactment. In those pre-TADRA years, 317 16-year-olds were involved in a fatal crash (a rate of 57 per 100,000). After the new laws, that number dropped to 230, or 36.1 per 100,000. Fatal crashes among 17-year-old drivers also declined, though to a lesser degree.

Because driving at unsafe or illegal speeds is the most common cause of fatal crashes involving young drivers, the TADRA authors included a provision that automatically revokes the license of a teen driver cited for driving more than 24 mph over the posted speed limit. During the post-TADRA study period, speed-related fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers were cut nearly in half. The bill also contained a zero-tolerance provision for teens caught driving with a blood alcohol level of .02 or more; after enactment, alcohol-related crashes involving 16-year-olds declined 62 percent.

The Emory team also compared the rates of fatal crashes involving drivers who turned 21 in 1997 (who learned to drive before TADRA) and drivers who turned 21 in 2002 (who started driving under TADRA). The latter group had a fatal crash rate 38 percent lower than their 1997 age-matched peers.

“Taken together, these findings indicate that TADRA has had a dramatic impact on fatal crashes involving young drivers in Georgia,” Kellermann said. “While we saw the greatest impact among 16-year-old drivers, the impact on 17-year-old drivers is worth noting as well.”

“It is also exciting that we found evidence that drivers who have grown up in the era of TADRA may be driving more safely than their predecessors—‘tough love’ works,” he added.