Teen driving restrictions help reduce fatal crashes

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Seventeen-year-old Carter Campbell just passed his driver's test at Green Light Driving School in Charlottesville.

"It feels really good," Campbell said. "It's a nice stress off. But now I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my summer."

Getting a driver's license is an exciting occasion for many teenagers, but the time after a teen passes their test is the most dangerous.

Rebecca Weast, a researcher at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, studies teen driving.

Weast said teens experience a crash rate that is four times higher than normal during the first six months of having their license.

"Teens are at their riskiest, they're at the highest danger of crash during those first six months," Weast said.

Weast also said teenagers are at the highest risk of getting into a car crash out of all age groups under age 80.

Green Light Driving School owner and instructor Mike Jones sees the errors teen drivers make every day.

"Typically, what we see where people make mistakes is the inability to anticipate," said Jones. "That's the biggest difference that we see between your parents driving and a new driver is their inability to recognize where the threats are and to be able to timely adjust to that situation."

Research suggests that the fatal crash rate among teens comes down to lack of experience.

Even when teenagers get their driver's license, they are still more vulnerable to certain situations.

"That's the difficult part about driving is that you're learning from your mistakes," said Jones.

Weast said the key to limiting those mistakes is a set of laws.

"What we've found is most effective is strengthening graduated driver licensing provisions," said Weast.

Graduated Driver Licensing laws are restrictions that protect new drivers from high-risk situations. Data shows that states with stricter GDL laws have lower teen crash rates.

Every state has a different set of GDL laws.

In Virginia, drivers under the age of 18 can only carry one passenger under the age of 21, cannot drive between midnight and 4 a.m., and cannot use their cell phone, even if it is hands-free.

"These restrictions are designed to help keep you safe and sometimes the teens think they're punishment and they're really not," Jones said.

Weast said limiting teens' exposure to risky situations as they are still gaining experience is the best way to prevent crashes.

There are also some things parents can do to better prepare their kids to get behind the wheel.

Weast said having your child drive in more difficult scenarios can help them gain experience.

"There's some evidence that shows parents don't often drive in really complex situations with their kids," Weast said, "Take them into something that's a little bit more higher risk. So take them onto the highway. Take them through a construction zone."

Jones agrees that parents should not be afraid to challenge their teen drivers.

"It is scary. But the reality is, when they're out on their own with their license, then it's really scary because they're by themselves," said Jones.

Campbell feels ready to drive on his own with his new license.

"They do a good job of preparing you for that and I feel like I'm ready," he said.

Weast said certain types of vehicles can better protect a teen in the event of a crash.

Every year, IIHS releases a list of the safest cars for new drivers. To find that list, click on the link in the Related Links box.

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