During 2007, Illinois teens only accounted for six percent of the state's licensed drivers, but represented 16 percent of the state's traffic fatalities. In the same year, the Illinois Department of Transportation reported 146 teen-driving-related deaths.
Young drivers present challenges to highway safety based on their inexperience. As a result, the state of Illinois enacted a number of stringent laws affecting teen drivers in 2007. After three years, the Prairie State reports that their stricter teen driver laws are saving young lives.
Illinois's "Graduated Driver License" Program
The new Illinois teen driving laws, in essence, established a graduated driver licensing (GDL) program, which, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), dramatically reduces teen-related auto accidents. The Illinois statutes increased the time a teen was required to have a learner's permit, imposed more supervised street driving and passenger restrictions, and set stricter curfews.
The cumulative impact of this law was to make the younger drivers more responsible drivers. By 2009, the number of teen deaths due to teen driving accidents declined by more than half, to 71.
While many believe the laws have had impact on the reduction in vehicle-related injuries and deaths , others believe that other factors may have influenced the drop in traffic deaths. Illinois has implemented other safe driver initiatives geared at teens. Programs, such as Operation Teen Safe Driving, have focused on curtailing risky behaviors like texting, using cell phones and drinking and driving.
Experts also attribute other non-legal factors to the decline. As early as 2009, experts, including the director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina, attributed some of the decline to the nation's economy. Higher gas prices and the recession correlate with fewer drivers on the roads and lead to a decrease in the number of accidents.
While the teen fatality and accident rate reductions are dramatic, the reality is that thousands of teens die each year as a result of motor vehicle accidents. Laws that are focused on rewarding responsible driving and penalizing poor drivers are more effective. When young drivers are more aware of the perils of poor choices and risky driving behavior, fewer traffic-related injuries and losses occur.