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Report: Young driver fatality rates have fallen sharply in the US, helped by education, technology

NEW YORK (AP) — Crash and fatality rates among drivers under 21 have fallen dramatically in the U.S. during the past 20 years, a new report says, while noting young drivers are still the riskiest group behind the wheel.

Using data from 2002-2021, a non-profit group of state highway safety offices says in the report made public Wednesday that fatal crashes involving a young driver fell by 38%, while deaths of young drivers dropped even more, by about 45%. For drivers 21 and older, fatal crashes rose 8% and deaths rose 11%.

The report from the Governors Highway Safety Association acknowledges that young people are driving less than they were 20 years ago, but highlights several other reasons for the improvement, while offering recommendations for building on them.

State programs that phase in driving privileges were at the top of the list. These programs, called graduated drivers license laws, often restrict or ban certain activities, such as driving at night or with peers, for teens. The GHSA suggests strengthening those programs and even expanding them to cover drivers 18 to 20 years old, like Maryland and New Jersey do.

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Other recommendations include bolstering adult and parent participation in their child’s driving education, more pee-to-peer education programs and making driver training accessible to all.

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“Young drivers are the riskiest age group on the road, and the reasons are straightforward — immaturity and inexperience,” said Pam Shadel Fischer, author of the GHSA report. ”Many young drivers simply don’t have the behind-the-wheel experience to recognize risk and take the appropriate corrective action to prevent a crash.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, overall traffic fatalities dropped 3.3% in the first half of the year compared with the prior-year period and have now fallen in five straight quarters after a pandemic surge.

In 2022, there were 42,795 people killed on U.S. roadways, which government officials described at the time as a national crisis.

The GHSA study said the young driver crash fatality rate improved over the past 20 years in all but three states and the District of Columbia.