WETHERSFIELD, Conn. -- Department of Motor Vehicle Commissioner Michael Bzdyra joined safety advocates and medical professionals at a press conference today to mark the 10th anniversary of Connecticut’s tougher state driving laws for 16-and 17-year-olds. The event also served as a reminder to parents and teens of how important it is to follow these laws that have dramatically reduced fatal crashes among the state’s youngest and least experienced drivers.
Ten years ago to the day, on August 1, 2008, Connecticut put into effect a set of laws called the Graduated Drivers’ License (GDL) laws, that included: a required two-hour safety information class for both parents and teens, improved training requirements, extended curfew and passenger restrictions, increased penalties for violations and other requirements aimed to increase safety among teen drivers.
Although car crashes are still the leading cause of teen deaths, statistics show these laws in Connecticut are making a difference. Fatal crashes involving 16-and 17-year-old drivers were more than 150 percent higher when the state had more lenient teen driving laws.
"Our young residents represent our future, and working to keep them safe is essential,” Governor Dannel P. Malloy said. “That’s why Connecticut took action ten years ago to reduce the untimely automobile related deaths of teens in our state. We assessed this problem, found and implemented a solution, and as a result lives have been saved. For this we should be proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish by working together. At the same time, it’s imperative that attention and efforts remain focused on this issue moving forward."
After the GDL laws were passed, teen car crash fatalities went from an average of 18 annually in 2001-2007 to seven per year in 2009-2016, according to Neil Chaudhary, a transportation researcher and owner of Preusser Research Group. And while teen driver fatal crashes per licensed driver nationally have trended upward by 26 percent in the last three years, Connecticut has seen a dramatic 40 percent decline.
“While our state’s laws have helped make a difference, we know from professional and personal experiences that every teen driver is at risk behind the wheel,” DMV Commissioner Michael Bzdyra said. “Not only should parents remain vigilant with their teens, but we as a community can also help promote safe driving practices. Ultimately, safe driving is everyone’s responsibility.”
In 2007, Connecticut took action after a series of deadly teen crashes creating a task force to overhaul the state’s teen driving laws, which at the time were among the most lenient in the nation.
The task force heard from professionals in medicine, law enforcement, driver education, transportation research as well as bereaved parents, public officials, teens, and school administrators. The task force met for several months and heard expert testimony, learned about the causes of teen crashes, and that there steps that could be taken to prevent them.
The task force recommended to the governor and the legislature the GDL laws that are now among the strictest, and safest, in the nation.
"I am proud that the Transportation Committee and my Legislative colleagues took action on teen driving," said State Representative Tony Guerrera, House Chair of the Transportation Committee. "Young lives have been saved and families kept intact because we saw the need to change our policies and raise awareness about teenage drivers."
The issue of teen safe driving continues to be a public health issue. The human brain is not fully developed in teens and does not fully develop until about 25 years old, which makes it difficult for teens to gauge risk, especially while driving.
“The state’s GDL laws continue to be an effective tool to keep our youngest and most inexperienced drivers safe. The laws these laws need to be preserved and not eroded as they are critically important for their own safety and their passenger’s safety as well,” said Dr. C. Steven Wolf, Department of Emergency Medicine Chairman at St. Francis Hospital. “Proactive discussions at home or in the classroom about the responsibility of driving can have a positive influence on teens when they get behind the wheel.”
The state’s teen driving laws also help parents steer their teen’s journey from a novice driver to a safe driver. In the required two-hour safety class, parents learn about the five biggest dangers in teen driving. These dangers include: passengers; alcohol and drugs; curfews and night driving risks; texting and electronic devices; and not wearing seat belts.
“We will never know for sure as traffic safety advocacy is measured in crashes that do not occur -- but I believe that if the 2008 changes to Connecticut’s teen driver laws were in effect in 2006, my son would not gotten into the crash that took his life. What the Task Force recommended and the legislature adopted in 2007-08 was too late for my son, but not too little for many other teens and their families across our state,” said Tim Hollister father of a 17-year-old boy who died in a 2006 car crash, and author of Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving.
For more information about Connecticut’s teen safe driving laws, visit http://ct.gov/teendriving