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Licensing examination and crash outcomes postlicensure in young drivers

JAMA Network OpenKey Points

Question: Do drivers younger than 18 years and subject to comprehensive licensing policy (graduated driver licensing laws, mandatory driver education and training) have better licensing and crash outcomes compared with drivers aged 18 to 24 years who are exempt from these licensing policies?

Findings: In this cohort study of 136 643 individuals aged 16 to 24 years, license applicants aged 16 to 17 years performed better on license examinations than those aged 18 to 24 years. Individuals licensed when younger than 18 years had lower crash rates in the first year of licensure than those licensed at 18 years, and individuals licensed at 18 years had the highest crash rates of all those younger than 25 years.

Meaning: The findings of this study suggest that it may be useful to reevaluate comprehensive driver licensing policies, including driver training, as a strategy to reduce crashes in young novice drivers.

Abstract

Importance: Despite US graduated driver licensing laws, young novice driver crash rates remain high. Study findings suggest comprehensive license policy that mandates driver education including behind-the-wheel (BTW) training may reduce crashes postlicensure. However, only 15 states mandate BTW training.

Objective: To identify differences in licensing and crash outcomes for drivers younger than 18 years who are subject to comprehensive licensing requirements (graduated driver licensing, driver education, and BTW training) vs those aged 18 to 24 years who are exempt from these requirements.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective, population-based cohort study used Ohio licensing data to define a cohort of 2018 license applicants (age 16-24 years, n = 136 643) and tracked licensed driver (n = 129 897) crash outcomes up to 12 months postlicensure. The study was conducted from January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2019, and data analysis was performed from October 7, 2019, to February 11, 2022.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Licensing examination performance and population-based, police-reported crash rates in the first 2 months and 12 months postlicensure across age groups, sex, and census tract–level sociodemographic variables were measured. Poisson regression models compared newly licensed driver crash rates, with reference to individuals licensed at 18 years, while controlling for census tract–level sociodemographic factors, time spent in the learner permit period, and licensing examination performance measures.

Results: Of 136 643 novice drivers, 69 488 (50.9%) were male and 67 152 (49.1%) were female. Mean (SD) age at enrollment (age at first on-road examination) was 17.7 (2.1) years. License applicants aged 16 and 17 years performed best on license examinations (15 466 [21.6%] and 5112 [30.9%] failing vs 7981 [37.5%] of applicants aged 18 years). Drivers licensed at 18 years had the highest crash rates of all those younger than 25 years. Compared with drivers licensed at 18 years, crash rates were 27% lower in individuals aged 16 years and 14% lower in those aged 17 years during the first 2 months postlicensure when controlling for socioeconomic status, time spent in learner permit status, and license examination performance measures (adjusted relative risk [aRR] at age 16 years: 0.73; 95% CI, 0.67-0.80; age 17 years: aRR, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.77-0.96). At 12 months postlicensure, crash rates were 19% lower for individuals licensed at age 16 years (aRR, 0.81; 95%, CI, 0.77-0.85) and 6% lower at age 17 years (aRR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.89-0.99) compared with individuals aged 18 years.

Conclusions and Relevance: In Ohio, drivers younger than 18 years who are subject to graduated driver licensing and driver education, including BTW training requirements, had lower crash rates in the first year postlicensure compared with those aged 18 years, with controls applied. These findings suggest that it may be fruitful for future work to reconsider the value of mandated driver license policies, including BTW training, and to examine reasons for delayed licensure and barriers to accessing training.

Authors

  • Elizabeth A. Walshe
  • Daniel Romer
  • Abraham J. Wyner
  • Shukai Cheng
  • Michael R. Elliott, PhD
  • Robert Zhang
  • Alexander K. Gonzalez
  • Natalie Oppenheimer
  • Flaura K. Winston