A team of Emory researchers has found that Georgia's strong teen driving laws are saving lives and helping the state's teens become safer adult drivers.
In an effort to protect the state's youngest, most inexperienced drivers, the Georgia General Assembly passed the "Teenage and Adult Driver Responsibility Act," also known as TADRA, in 1997. In 2004, a group of Emory researchers evaluated the impact of TADRA on teen driving statewide. "Trauma from automobile-related injuries is a major cause of death in the state, and the leading cause of death among Georgia teens. Young drivers are involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes at much higher rates than older drivers," says Arthur Kellermann, MD, professor and chair of emergency medicine, Emory University School of Medicine and a member of the study team.
TADRA is a comprehensive package of teen driving laws. TADRA introduced graduated licensing, where a provisional driver's license that restricts late night driving and the number of passengers traveling in a teen driver's vehicle. The law also includes provisions specifically designed to deter excessive speeding, consumption of alcohol while driving and other dangerous driving behaviors. Teen drivers who violate key provisions of TADRA automatically lose their license for six months, and must reapply for and pass a driver's test to get it back.
This is the first study to examine TADRA's long-term impact. To determine if any change in fatal crash rates was due to the law and not to broader societal changes, such as more crashworthy automobiles, the research team compared Georgia's experience under TADRA with that of three neighboring states Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina.
The Emory researchers found that TADRA produced a dramatic decrease in fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers. In the first five and a half years after the law was enacted, the rate of fatal crashes in this age group was 36.8 percent less than in the five and a half years immediately before enactment. In the five and a half years before TADRA became law, 317 16-year-old drivers were involved in a fatal crash (a rate of 57 per 100,000). In the first five and a half years after TADRA became law, 230 16-year-old drivers were involved in fatal crashes (a rate of 36.1 per 100,000). Fatal crashes involving 17-year-old drivers were reduced as well, although to a lesser degree.
Because driving at an unsafe or illegal speed is the most common cause of fatal crashes involving young drivers, the authors of TADRA included a provision that automatically revokes the license of a teen driver who is cited for driving more than 24 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. In the first five and a half years after TADRA was enacted, Emory researchers found that speed-related fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers were nearly cut in half. TADRA also contains a "zero tolerance" provision for teens caught driving with a blood alcohol level of .02 or more. After enactment, alcohol related crashes involving 16-year-olds declined 62 percent.
The Emory team also compared the rate of fatal crashes involving drivers who turned 21 in 1997 and learned to drive before TADRA, with the fatal crash rate among drivers who turned 21 in 2002 and started driving under TADRA. The group of teens who learned to drive under TADRA had a fatal crash rate 38 percent lower than their 1997 age-matched peers.
"Taken together, these findings indicate that TADRA has had a dramatic impact on fatal crashes involving young drivers in Georgia," explains Dr. Kellermann. "While we saw the greatest impact among 16-year-old drivers, the impact on 17-year-old drivers is worth noting as well.
"It is also exciting that we found evidence that drivers who have grown up in the era of TADRA may be driving more safely than their predecessors -- 'Tough love' works," adds Kellermann.