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Remarks at the American Automobile Association "Licensed to Learn" Press Conference, Washington, DC
Carol Carmody
American Automobile Association "Licensed to Learn" Press Conference, Washington, DC

Thank you and good morning. I am pleased to be here today representing the National Transportation Safety Board and to be with the State legislators, AAA clubs, and others who have been instrumental in the enactment of State graduated driver license laws. We have seen a very important change in driver licensing practices in the States in the last five years. AAA's "Licensed to Learn" campaign certainly has been one of the important causes of this change.

The Safety Board has made numerous recommendations to protect our children, such as requiring young children to ride in the back seat to avoid injury from airbags, requiring the use of booster seats for older children, and establishing fitting stations to reduce the misuse of child safety seats. I would like to recognize and thank the AAA for providing a means for certified child restraint technicians at these fitting stations to obtain reasonably priced liability insurance so that they can perform this necessary and potentially life-saving service without the fear of being sued. For older children, graduated licensing is a key component of our child and youth safety effort and is on our list of "Most Wanted" safety recommendations.

In 1993, the Safety Board called on all States to enact graduated driver license laws with nighttime driving restrictions. The purpose is to phase in the driving privilege so that young drivers can get as much practice as possible with adult supervision prior to receiving an unrestricted license.

After the Board issued the graduated licensing recommendations, we searched for groups with similar interests to promote adoption of State laws. At about the same time, the American Automobile Association briefed the Safety Board on its "Licensed to Learn" program of which State adoption of graduated licensing laws was an essential element. A long and fruitful relationship was born because the Board, AAA, and our other partners had the same objective. We wanted to reduce crashes and fatalities involving young drivers and we had good evidence that graduated licensing would do that.

The AAA clubs have been key to our joint success in getting a majority of the States to enact comprehensive graduated licensing laws. Over 80 percent of the States have adopted at least some components of graduated licensing. I want to congratulate the States that are represented here for their life-saving accomplishments. AAA has been a great ally on this issue for the Safety Board and I believe that the Board has been a great ally for AAA in the States.

When we started this effort, we thought that graduated licensing laws could reduce fatalities involving young drivers by 5 to 10 percent. Early evidence from Florida indicated a 9 percent fatality and injury reduction for 16 and 17-year old drivers. More recent research from North Carolina shows that they achieved a 29 percent reduction in fatalities involving young drivers. In working with AAA in Texas this year, we estimated that graduated licensing could prevent at least 80 deaths per year, and perhaps triple that number, in Texas. Our joint efforts on graduated licensing are a cause for celebration because the projected substantial increase in youth fatalities nationwide has been averted and because States with comprehensive graduated licensing laws have, indeed, reduced fatalities.

But we cannot rest on our accomplishments. Young people are still dying. I don't need to remind anyone here that automobile crashes continue to be the number one cause of death for Americans between the ages of 6 and 27. In the decade of the 1990s, over 63,000 children between the ages of 15 and 20 died in traffic crashes; more than 120 each week. Graduated licensing laws are an important part of the solution to reducing this unacceptably high loss of life of novice, young drivers and their teenaged passengers. Yet 5 states have not enacted any graduated licensing requirements and 13 states need to make their graduated licensing requirements truly comprehensive by requiring mandatory holding periods for the learner's permit and provisional license phases, mandatory driver experience, crash and violation free driving as a requirement to move to a full license, passenger restrictions, and a nighttime driving restriction. The 15 States that have not adopted nighttime driving restrictions for young drivers need to do so. Further, many of the 35 States with nighttime restrictions could make their restrictions more effective by adopting an earlier starting time. These measures work. But they will work only if legislatures give parents the support they need by enacting these life-saving measures.

The National Transportation Safety Board is committed to working together with you on this effort to make our highways safer for our children and for all our citizens.

Thank you for inviting me to be with you today.