The State of Oregon began limiting driving privileges for teenagers about 15 years ago. By restricting when and with whom teens under 18 can be on the road, the state hoped to reduce the number of inexperienced drivers who were injured or killed in car accidents every year.

The “graduated licensing” program caught on nationally over the next decade. All 50 states now have some provisions limiting the activities of teen drivers for the first six or 12 months they have a license.

In Oregon, when a teen earns a restricted license, he cannot drive with passengers under the age of 20 (unless a member of the driver’s immediate family) for the first six months. During the next six months, the teen cannot have more than three passengers under 20 in the car (unless immediate family).

For the full 12-month duration of the restricted license, the teen cannot drive between midnight and 5 a.m. under most circumstances. And, no driver under 18 may text or talk on a cell phone while behind the wheel.

Based on the theory that inexperienced and immature drivers are especially vulnerable behind the wheel, the programs have shown encouraging results. States report fewer fatalities among 16- and 17-year-old drivers.

A recent study, however, uncovered what may be an unintended consequence of graduated licensing. While fewer teen drivers under 18 have been killed, more drivers age 18 and 19 have died.

Researchers suggest that the risk has merely shifted to older teens, but they have no solid explanations for the change.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been any speculation.

We’ll discuss some possible explanations in our next post.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Teen Driver Restrictions A Mixed Bag,” Shari Roan, Sept. 13, 2011