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Better ways to help teens drive safely

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Over the past decade, many states have imposed tougher rules on teens seeking a driver's license, such as raising the legal driving age. Stricter rules do indeed reduce teen road fatalities, by up to one-fifth, according to one study. But does raising the minimum age alone really help teens drive more safely?

New data suggest not.

A study released Monday by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore shows that a combination of factors, and not simply a higher driving age, significantly reduces fatal accidents. The study looked at states with five of seven restrictions on teen drivers (including higher minimum driving ages) and saw an 18 percent reduction in fatal crashes for that age group compared with states having no such special restrictions. The decline was steeper, 21 percent, in states with six or more restrictions.

By the end of 2004, 41 states and the District of Columbia had "graduated license" programs that include a learner's permit, an intermediate license with restrictions, and a full, unrestricted license.

These programs impose such conditions as nighttime curfews, passenger limits, and driver's education requirements. Some states have also increased the length of time teens must keep their learner's permits. These conditions have reduced fatal car crashes among teens – the leading cause of death for this age group. Clearly, a combination of restrictions is the right way to go for states to turn out responsible teen drivers.

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