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New drivers in fatal crashes took more chances

An analysis of fatal motor vehicle crashes suggests that new drivers (16 years old) engage in considerably more risk-taking behaviors behind the wheel than do experienced drivers (25 to 49 years old). The study included 2,420 fatal crashes in Colorado; in 158, a novice was driving. These 16-year-olds were more likely than older drivers to have been speeding; charged with a traffic violation or reckless driving; and in a single vehicle, rollover, or run-off-the road crash.

New drivers involved in a fatal crash also were more likely to be carrying two or more passengers and to be driving a car, rather than a sport utility vehicle or truck. They were also less likely than those who were experienced to have crashed in bad weather or hazardous surface conditions. Both groups had a low rate of safety belt use: 48% of novices and 42% of more experienced drivers were not wearing their belt when they crashed (Gonzales MM et al: Ann Emerg Med 2005;45:140).

Commentary: You can do something about these alarming statistics. As part of anticipatory guidance, emphasize safety belt use and careful supervision of young drivers. And tell parents of 16-year-olds about the risks to their child-they need to know. Also keep abreast of, and be an advocate for, any graduated licensing laws that are being proposed by your state legislature. Under these laws, full licensing is delayed while beginning drivers get experience under conditions of diminished risk (supervised driving, limited night driving, no passengers). Your expert opinion may sway a key legislator toward stepwise licensing for teens.