NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


September 20, 2005

Washington, D.C. -- In an effort to reduce highway crashes -- the leading cause of death among 15- to 20- year-olds -- the National Transportation Safety Board today urged States to prohibit inexperienced teenaged drivers from using wireless communications devices while they are learning to drive.

"An average of more than 120 young people die every week in vehicle crashes in this country. It's a tragedy that repeats itself in every city and community and it has to stop," said Acting NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "We must do everything we can to reduce these needless deaths and we strongly believe that banning wireless communications devices for teenagers learning to drive will help significantly."

At a public meeting today the NTSB added restricting wireless communications devices for young learners on its "Most Wanted List" of transportation safety improvements.

The recommendation, H-03-8, has been added to the Promote Youth Highway Safety area of the list. Currently 11 States and the District of Columbia have laws related to wireless communication devices and young drivers, but only eight States have laws prohibiting their use by learners in both the permit and intermediate stages.

The Board also removed two recommendations, calling for comprehensive underage drinking and driving or "Age 21" laws, and nighttime driving restrictions for young novice drivers, from the list. Focused advocacy efforts have resulted in more than 80 percent of the States implementing the two recommendations that are part of the Board's Promote Youth Highway Safety issue area. The Most Wanted list's six issue areas and the recommendations are summarized below. Improve Child Occupant Protection

Between 1995 and 2004 more than 3,800 child automobile occupants were killed in traffic crashes. About 86% of the children killed, aged 4 though 8, were unrestrained or improperly restrained in adult-sized seat belts.

Safety Recommendation H-96-14 calls for States to require mandatory use of child restraint systems for children up to 8 years old. Thirty-three States and the District of Columbia require the use of booster seats although only 11 and the District of Columbia require use through age seven as the Board recommended.

Primary Seat Belt Enforcement

Primary enforcement of seat belt laws is the single most important measure that States can take to reduce the death toll from highway crashes. Almost 31,700 people died in automobile crashes in 2004, 55 percent of those killed were unrestrained. Lap/shoulder belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent. Further when adults buckle up 86 percent of children are buckled up but when adults do not buckle up, the percentage of restrained children drops to 50.

Safety Recommendation H-97-2 asks States to enact legislation allowing law enforcement to cite people for not wearing seat belts even when no other violation is evident. The recommendation also calls for seat belt violations to include driver's license penalty points and appropriate fines. Twenty-two States and the District of Columbia have enacted primary enforcement laws. Only the District of Columbia, New York, and the U.S. Virgin Islands assess penalty points for seat belt violations.

Promote Youth Highway Safety

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for young drivers, 15 to 20 years old. From 1995-2004 about 64,000 young people died in traffic crashes - more than 122 each week.

The Board's recommendations in this area have focused on improving several factors noted in crashes involving young drivers. While young drivers do only 20 percent of their driving at night, over half of the crash fatalities occur during nighttime hours. The risk of a crash involving a young driver increases with each additional teen passenger in the vehicle and, in 2004, 24 percent of the fatally injured drivers aged 15-20 were legally impaired by alcohol.

Safety Recommendation H-93-1 asked States to enact drinking age (age 21) laws that prohibit persons under age 21 from attempting to purchase, purchasing, publicly possessing, or consuming alcoholic beverages as well as prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages to persons under age 21. Currently all 50 States and the District of Columbia now prohibit the alcohol sale, public possession of alcohol, and the use of fraudulent or false identification to purchase alcohol. Forty-six States prohibit under age purchase and 42 states prohibit under age attempt to purchase.

Safety Recommendation H-93-9 called for States to restrict nighttime driving privileges for young drivers, especially between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. Forty- three States plus the District of Columbia and Guam have nighttime driving restrictions generally starting around 11 p.m. to midnight.

Safety Recommendations H-93-1 and H-93-9 were changed to a Closed-Acceptable Action status because of the majority of States have taken the recommended action and removed from the Most Wanted List.

Safety Recommendation H-02-30 asks States to restrict the number of passengers under age 20 for young drivers with provisional licenses for at least six months. Thirty-three States and the District of Columbia have passenger restriction laws for young drivers. In 20 States the restriction is in place for at least 6 months.

Safety Recommendation H-02-32 calls for a three-stage graduated licensing system for young drivers including passenger restrictions during the provisional stage. Thirty- nine States and the District of Columbia have adopted comprehensive systems including all of the elements recommended by the Board. Eleven States have enacted partial systems.

Eliminate Hard Core Drinking Driving

In 2004 there were 16,694 alcohol-related traffic crash fatalities and 54 percent of those fatalities involved hard core drinking drivers. A hard core drinking driver is a repeat offender with a prior driving-while-intoxicated arrest within the past 10 years, or an offender with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 percent or greater.

Safety Recommendation H-00-26 encourages States to establish a comprehensive program, containing 11 elements, designed to prevent hard core drinkers from driving. Since the Board issued the recommendation in 2000, at least 22 States and the District of Columbia have adopted one or more elements of the model program but only 5 States have developed programs sufficient to close the recommendation for the State.

School Bus/Grade Crossing Safety

Although school bus grade crossing accidents are infrequent, the results are disastrous when they do occur. Passive grade crossings are especially dangerous because there are no lights or audible warning systems to indicate when a train is approaching. Requiring bus drivers to "stop, look, and listen" before entering a grade crossing helps ensure the safety of all children on a school bus.

Safety Recommendation H-01-38 proposes that States implement a program to install stop signs at crossings, enhance bus driver training, and require noise-reducing switches. Six States have installed stop signs at crossings. Thirty-two States have enhanced driver training, and 12 States now require noise-reducing switches (to mute the radio, heater and air conditioner) on newly purchased school buses.

Enhance Recreational Boating Safety

Last year more than 600 people were killed in recreational boating accidents and most of those, 72 percent, died from drowning. The Coast Guard reports that about 89% of the drowning victims were not wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs). This issue area has two recommendations.

Safety Recommendation M-93-1 asks for mandatory use of PFDs for children demonstration of operator knowledge of safe boating rules and skills, and operator licensing. Since the Board's recommendations were issued 31 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico now have mandatory education. Thirty-one States and the District of Columbia have both PFD requirements and mandatory education.

Safety Recommendation M-98-101 calls for States to require rental businesses to provide safety instruction and training to all persons who operate rented personal watercraft. Currently 31 States, the District of Columbia, and three territories require safety instruction at PWC rental operations.

Acting Chairman Rosenker said, "Clearly, the Board's advocacy efforts have been extremely successful. There have been 238 safety improvements in the States since these recommendations were issued. Each one contributed to a reduction in accidents, injuries and fatalities in their respective States. I ask all the States to work with us to make transportation safety a priority for all our citizens."

NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100



The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.