Illinois Has Cut Its Teen Driver Death Rate in Half

By: Bridget Clerkin October 31, 2017
Illinois says its graduated driver's license program—which slowly brings teens along as drivers over the course of a year—has helped the state cuts its teen driver death rate in half.
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Earning a degree has long been linked to greater success, but graduated teens in Illinois have pulled off an especially impressive achievement.

The Prairie State has seen its teenage driver death rate fall 51% over the last decade, said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. The official attributed the inspiring statistic to the state’s graduated driver program, which slowly doles out more driving privileges to new license holders over the course of a year.

In a statement on teen driver safety issued earlier this month, the Secretary pointed to the latest numbers on the subject, showing 76 fatalities in 2017, as tallied by the Illinois Department of Transportation. A decade earlier, he said, the figure—which includes roadway deaths of drivers aged 16 to 19—was 155.

That troubling tally was a large part of the reason Illinois lawmakers adopted the graduated licensing program in 2008, White said. The initiative nearly tripled the amount of time between receiving a permit and a full driver’s license in the state, making participants earn greater privileges over three different phases. The program also focuses on limiting distractions for new drivers, including cell phones, which the measure banned behind the wheel for drivers under 18 years old.

The newly reported numbers don’t just showcase a striking improvement for the state; they offer a stark comparison to the rest of the nation, which saw overall traffic fatalities substantially rise yet again this year.

Still, Illinois mirrored national trends in other ways, with its teen driver death rate hitting an all-time low in 2014—the last year roadway fatalities were on the decline nationally. That year, Illinois suffered only 66 teenage driver deaths, while the country recorded 38,300 roadway deaths overall. The following year saw numbers rise both in the state and nationwide—a trend that has continued now for two consecutive years.

But in Illinois, it seems the state’s graduated licensing program has taught drivers a lot—and could offer a valuable lesson for the rest of the nation.

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