Driving deaths among Illinois teenagers has dropped by half over the nine years since the state made it tougher for teens to get driver’s licenses.
Other factors may also have played roles in the state’s fatality decline, which reflects a nationwide trend among drivers under age 20.
That trend, however, has been notably strong in Tazewell County, where the Tazewell Teen Initiative has educated students on the dangers of alcohol, drugs and distracted driving since a spate of teen deaths prompted the agency’s formation 11 years ago.
Secretary of State Jesse White cited an overhaul of the state’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws that began in 2008 for Illinois’ 51-percent decline in teen driving fatalities between 2007 and last year.
“I am pleased this law is working as we intended,” White said in a news release issued this week in conjunction with National Teen Driver Safety Week. “We worked hard to strengthen our GDL program and make it one of the best in the nation.”
All states have enacted at least some elements of graduated licensing since the 1990s, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The laws’ overall impact is reflected in national teen fatality statistics.
Teen auto fatalities in Illinois involving drivers ages 16-19 dropped by slightly more than half between 2007, when 155 were recorded, and 2016, when 76 were killed, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Nationwide, the decline exceeded 54 percent between 2007 and 2015, the last year figures were available — a drop from 4,981 to 2,715, according to the Insurance Institute. The 2015 total marked a 69-percent decline from 1975.
Analyses cited by the Institute indicate economics were factors in the past decade’s fewer fatalities. The nationwide recession that struck in 2008 made it tougher for teens to obtain jobs to support car ownership, though fatalities continued to decline as the economy improved.
The declines may also reflect a significant reduction over the past three decades, at least in percentages, in the number of teenagers with driver’s licenses.
A recent University of Michigan study revealed that the number of teens with licenses by age 19 dropped from 70 percent in 1983 to just under 50 percent in 2014. Among 16-year-olds, the least experienced drivers of that age group, license possession declined from 46 percent to 24 percent, the study showed.
In Tazewell County, the Teen Initiative coalition of law enforcement, education and student participants was formed in 2006 after 15 teens died in vehicle crashes, many of them alcohol-related, over a 15-month period.
Only two teens have been killed in crashes in the county over the past five years, including one last month. That death prompted criminal charges to be filed against another youth for allegedly causing a fatal accident while under the influence of marijuana.
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin