January 25, 2007
North Carolina’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) system has reduced hospitalizations and resulting hospital costs by about one-third for the state’s 16-year-old drivers, according to a study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers to be published in the February edition of the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.

The study, “The Effects of Graduated Driver Licensing on Hospitalization Rates and Charges for 16- and 17-Year Olds in North Carolina,” showed that in the 46 months after North Carolina started GDL, hospitalizations of 16-year-old drivers declined by 36.5 percent and, consequently, hospital costs for these young drivers dropped by 31.2 percent, or $650,000 per year.

The GDL system places restrictions on young drivers that limit their exposure to high-risk driving situations, such as driving during nighttime hours and driving with multiple passengers, while they are still adjusting to the complexities involved in driving. GDL programs have been implemented in 40 states and the District of Columbia. North Carolina’s program was adopted on Dec. 1, 1997, making the state the second to implement the system.

Photograph of Dr. Lewis Margolis

Photograph of Dr. Lewis Margolis

“These results show dramatic improvements in the rate of serious injury among young drivers, which is excellent news,” said Dr. Lewis Margolis, lead author of the study. Margolis is a physician, associate professor of maternal and child health in UNC’s School of Public Health, and research fellow with UNC’s Highway Safety Research Center. “In addition, the savings in hospital and medical costs are significant. Our research shows that graduated driver licensing is having a very positive effect on 16-year-old drivers in North Carolina. Our analysis suggests, though, that the reductions result from 16-year-olds driving less, rather than from improvements in their driving skills.”

The study, sponsored by State Farm Insurance Company and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was designed to look specifically at the impact of GDL on the rate of hospitalization as well as on hospital charges, Margolis said. The study also showed some decline in hospitalizations among 17-year-old drivers who had been in the GDL program, but the reductions were not statistically significant, Margolis said.

Co-authors of the study from the Highway Safety Research Center are Scott V. Masten, research associate, and Dr. Robert D. Foss, senior research scientist and manager of alcohol studies.

A Highway Safety Research Center study published in 2001, based on motor vehicle crash data, showed that young drivers have been involved in fewer crashes since GDL was implemented in the state. This previous study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, also showed a 57 percent drop in fatal accidents involving 16-year-old drivers.

Traffic Injury Prevention is the official journal of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, The International Research Council on the Biomechanics of Impact and International Traffic Medicine Association.


Note: Margolis can be reached at 919-966-5974 or lew_margolis@unc.edu.

School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, (919) 966-7467, ramona_dubose@unc.edu.

News Services contact: Clinton Colmenares, (919) 843-1991, clinton_colmenares@unc.edu.



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