THE KIDS THESE DAYS….Ten years ago California adopted a new law that severely restricted teen driving and dramatically increased the requirements for teens to get a driver’s license. The goal, of course, was to cut down on dangerous driving by teens and reduce the teen fatality rate on the road.

So did it work? Mike Males, a sociologist whose career has been largely devoted to defending kids against demonization by their elders (among other things, he’s the author of The Scapegoat Generation: America’s War on Adolescents), compared the fatality rate among drivers licensed under the old law and those licensed under the new law, and concludes that the new law hasn’t worked:

A study I conducted…found, as did previous researchers, that California’s graduated licensing law was associated with fewer fatalities among 16-year-old drivers (down 20% through 2005). But that reduction was more than offset by the increased death rate — up 24% — of 18-year-olds, whose driving records researchers have neglected to study. The latest figures also indicate higher-than-expected fatalities among drivers aged 19, 20 and 21 who were licensed under the new law. The death rates of 17-year-olds changed little.

The stricter law appears to have split teens into three categories, none faring well. A few ignored the delays and supervision requirements specified in the new law and drove illegally, resulting in an 11% increase in deaths involving unlicensed teen drivers after the law took effect.

A second group, perhaps unable or unwilling to go through the months of supervision from parents or over-25 adults, waited until age 18 to learn to drive….Fewer 16-year-olds driving may be the biggest reason fatalities declined for that age.

Then there were teens who dutifully complied with the law’s licensing requirements. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds driving legally under the new law experienced a 9% decline in fatalities compared with their pre-law counterparts — but when they turned 18, their death rate jumped to 25% higher than that of 18-year-olds licensed before the law.

Males suggests that driving experience is more important than licensing requirements. 16-year-olds are temporarily safer under the new law, mainly because fewer of them are on the road, but by the time they turn 18 they’re more dangerous than they were under the old law because they have less driving experience than 18-year-olds in the past. (This lack of driving experience — and more oddly, a growing lack of interest in getting experience — is something I’ve noted before.) Perhaps on its ten-year anniversary, it’s time California to rethink its shiny new teen driving law?

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