Teen Driving Decals May Not Curb Crashes

License-plate decals identifying teen drivers may not affect crash rates

Nothing says there's a newbie behind the wheel quite like a bright-red label stuck to a car license plate. But it turns out these colorful labels may not cut down on crashes for teen drivers after all.

A new study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that — for young drivers holding a learner's permit — the decals had no effect on accident reduction. However, the decals did seem to reduce crashes when they stayed on license plates for the first few months after teens became licensed drivers.

In 2010, New Jersey implemented its Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) decal provision — known as Kyleigh’s Law — for young drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses.

"GDLs have been the cornerstone of public policy in reducing crashes [involving teen drivers]," said lead study author Allison E. Curry, PhD, the director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in a press release. "One of the challenges with GDL is it's difficult for the police to identify learner drivers and intermediate drivers.”

GDL is an approach to granting young drivers full license privileges by increasing responsibility. For example, a GDL may restrict nighttime driving or the number of teens in a car. The idea is to allow teen drivers to slowly gain experience.

Using data from New Jersey's driver-licensing database and police-reported crash database, Dr. Curry and team estimated the monthly rate of accidents for every driver with a learner's permit from January 2006 to June 2012.

When Dr. Curry and team looked at whether these decals had been effective in reducing teen driver crashes among learners, they found that the decals had no effect.

According to Dr. Curry and team, this low impact may be because teens with learner's permits had an adult supervising them at all times.

However, once teens advanced to full driving privileges, the decals decreased crash rates by almost 10 percent. The decals also helped police and other drivers identify newbies.

This study was published in the June issue of the British Medical Journal.

The State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company funded this research.

Co-authors Michael R. Elliott, PhD, and Dennis R. Durbin, MD, disclosed receiving funding from State Farm for projects unrelated to this study.