Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional death for young people ages 16-25 in Washington.
Young drivers face an increased crash risk due to both their inexperience and immaturity. Studies show that young drivers, who are just learning to drive, lack the skills and experience necessary to recognize and respond to risk appropriately. Additionally, studies also recognize age-related immaturity as a key factor in dangerous decision-making on the road.
It’s for these reasons that the strategies to reduce young crashes must help young drivers gain valuable experience, while mitigating their risk by keeping them out of dangerous situations.
Improving Driver Training and Testing
Driver training sets the stage for a lifetime of safe driving. Nearly 60,000 people take driver training each year in Washington State. The Department of Licensing, in partnership with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, driver training schools, and other traffic safety partners, is working to improve driver training and testing— an effort that will better prepare young drivers to handle hazards on the road and make safe driving decisions.
Strengthening Washington’s Intermediate Driver Licensing Law
Washington leads in highway safety. Washington teens ages 16-17 move through two restricted phases of licensing before being granted an unrestricted driver’s license; first the instruction permits, then intermediate drivers’ license. This law has been credited with reducing the number of fatality crashes in this age group. However, there are additional interventions that have shown to reduce death and injuries even further. Traffic safety experts have developed a research-based model intermediate driver licensing system. Washington’s current law falls short of this model in the following ways:
|Component||Current Washington State Law||Model Intermediate Driver Licensing System|
|Minimum age for intermediate license||Age 16||Age 17|
|Minimum months in intermediate license phase||No minimum requirement.||12 months|
|Supervised hours of driving experience||50 hours||80–120 hours|
|Nighttime restriction||1 am to 5 am||9 pm to 5 am. Restriction should last 1 year.|
|Teenage passengers||No passengers under 20 for the first 6 months (except for immediate family members). No more than 3 passengers under 20 (except for immediate family members) for the next 6 months.||The “no teen passenger limit” should last 1 year.|
|New driver decal requirement||No requirement||Help law enforcement identify Intermediate driver’s license holders through a license plate tag.|
Parent Involvement Keeps Teens Safe
Parents play an integral role in keeping their kids safe on the road, as seen in GHSA’s Promoting Parent Involvement in Teen Driving report. In 2015, Department of Licensing began providing a parent’s guide to new teen drivers at its licensing offices throughout the state. The DOL also works closely with driver training schools to add a Parent Night at the beginning of each traffic safety education course.
Early Warning Letters
The Department of Licensing sends letters to all drivers ages 18–21 receiving their first moving violation. A driver’s chances of crashing doubles after receiving their first violation. Intermediate driver license holders already receive similar letters after violations or crashes.
The goal of the letter is to help young drivers realize the risks associated with continued violations and reduce repeat offenses.
After a 22-month review involving more than 100,000 drivers, the DOL found that the Early Warning Letter Program reduced secondary violations by 13%, which translates to 15,126 fewer infractions.
Parents & Teens:
Steps for 1st License for Teens 16-17 years old
Washington Parent Guide to Teen Driving & Supervised Driving Log
Order Intermediate Driver License Quick Reference Card
AAA Guide to Teen Driver Safety, Keys2Drive
Centers for Disease Control Parent-Teen Driving Agreement
Background & Data:
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Teenagers
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Teen Drivers
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Teen Driving
Target Zero Plan – Young Driver Chapter
Young Drivers and Adolescent Neurocognitive Brain Development
Washington Laws Related to Young Drivers