(NUI) - Turning 16 years old and getting a license to drive is an exciting time in any youngster's life. Unfortunately, teen-age drivers are among the most accident-prone.
"For most young drivers, it's not a question of whether they'll have an accident, it's when they'll have one," is the way one insurance actuary describes the situation.
Inexperience seems to be the primary reason that many teen-age drivers are so vulnerable to traffic crashes, according to Nationwide Insurance safety officer Tim Hoyt.
Although drivers in the 16 to 19 age group constitute only 5.2 percent of the nation's driving population, they are involved in 13.2 percent of all traffic crashes and nearly 12 percent of fatal crashes, according to the National Safety Council.
There's a new initiative aimed at protecting teen-agers during their formative driving periods. It's called "graduated licensing." The licensing age remains the same, but full driving privileges are phased in gradually.
Nationwide Insurance, the country's fourth largest auto insurer, strongly supports "graduated licensing," as do many other insurers and safety organizations around the country.
The graduated licensing program begins with the learner's permit. As is the case now, the permit allows learners to drive when accompanied by licensed drivers.
Next comes the intermediate stage. That permits youthful drivers to drive alone - without licensed drivers - during the day. They also can drive at night - between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. - but a licensed driver must be with them.
And then comes the advanced stage. That's when learners, thanks to the experience they've gained under the watchful eyes of mature drivers, graduate to full driving privileges without restrictions. Most teen-agers I know are bright and enthusiastic," Hoyt says, "but just because they get drivers licenses doesn't mean they can handle vehicles safely, particularly in trying situations."
The closest program to a full graduated license system went into effect last September in Florida, California and Maryland have partial graduated licensing.
Four other states - Connecticut, Virginia, Minnesota, and Kentucky - have instituted six-month waiting periods before learners can get full driving privileges.
"Greater congestion, high speeds on freeways and more powerful cars combine to make driving a more formidable task for the newly-licensed drivers today," Hoyt says. "That's why Nationwide Insurance and many safety experts strongly encourage passage of graduated licensing laws by every state."