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What's at Risk from Unlicensed Teen Drivers: One in 25 Admit to Driving Without a License

Researchers see more fatalities associated with this overlooked group

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A study released today from the research alliance of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm Insurance Companies(R) in the journal Pediatrics sheds light on an often-overlooked group of teen drivers: those without a license. According to national traffic fatality data, this group is disproportionately involved in fatal crashes. The 2006 National Young Driver Survey (NYDS) of more than 5,500 teens across the country revealed that about six percent of students in grades 9 through 11 reported driving unsupervised without a license. However, according to the national fatality data, a full 20 percent of 14- to 18-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2006 did not have a license. This means unlicensed teens are significantly over-represented in fatal crashes.

"According to our survey, unlicensed teen drivers engage in unsafe driving behaviors more often than their legally driving peers," says Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D., co-scientific director of CHOP's Center for Injury Research and Prevention and a co-author of the study. "Unlicensed teens are more likely to report not wearing a seat belt, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and driving without a purpose, behaviors known to be associated with fatal crashes." Dr. Winston co-wrote the study with Michael Elliott, Ph.D., a biostatistician at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, M.S.Ed. of CHOP.

"This issue also impacts those who share the roads with unlicensed drivers," notes Laurette Stiles, vice president of Strategic Resources at State Farm. "As the nation's largest auto insurer we are committed to working with researchers, educators, and parents to reach out to all teens to address risky teen driving behaviors."

Researchers say knowing which teens are driving without a license makes it possible to develop effective interventions to address unsafe behaviors that are linked to an elevated risk of injury and death. In addition to behavioral risk factors, the researchers identified demographic traits that are associated with a teen's likelihood to drive without a license. In the self-report survey, teens who live in central city or rural areas and identify themselves as African American or Hispanic were the most likely to say they drive without a license at least one hour per week. Researchers are careful not to oversimplify the issue, however.

"Not all kids who are driving unlicensed are doing so for the same reasons," explains Dr. Winston. "Some are simply more likely to take risks with their driving - such as driving under the influence - which prevent them from getting or keeping a license. However, there also may be teens who need to drive to work or school but are unable to obtain or maintain a license for reasons unrelated to driving behavior, such as unpaid fines or registration fees."

Unlicensed teens surveyed in the NYDS were much less likely to have attended a driver's ed class than licensed teens and were about four times more likely to report that "no one" taught them to drive compared to licensed teen drivers.

Further research is needed to better understand and address the obstacles teens face in obtaining a license. The study's authors note that while a license itself doesn't enhance safety, the licensure process may be protective if it helps teens and their families adhere to graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws and follow a systematic approach to learning to drive. Future research and outreach directed at teens from central city and rural areas may help to reduce the high rate of crash injury and fatality associated with unlicensed teens.

About the Young Driver Research Initiative

Motor vehicle crashes remain the No. 1 cause of death among teens in the United States. Teen drivers (ages 16 to 19) die at four times the rate of adult drivers (ages 25 to 69). To reduce injury and death from young driver-related crashes through scientific research and outreach, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Companies(R) have formed an alliance called the Young Driver Research Initiative (YDRI). This academic-industry alliance also created Partners for Child Passenger Safety, the world's largest study of children in crashes.

About The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation's first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric health care professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children's Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country, ranking third in National Institutes of Health funding. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 430-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit

About State Farm Insurance Companies(R)

State Farm insures more cars and homes than any other insurer in the U.S., is the leading insurer of watercraft and is also a leading insurer in Canada. State Farm's 17,000 agents and 68,000 employees serve over 78 million auto, fire, life and health policies in the United States and Canada, and more than 1.9 million bank accounts. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company is the parent of the State Farm family of

companies. State Farm is ranked No. 32 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies. For more information, please visit or in Canada

For questions directed to Dr. Elliott please contact Laura Bailey, U-M School of Public Health Contact:


Dana Mortensen

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

(267) 426-6092

Vicki Harper

State Farm Insurance Companies

(309) 766-9743

SOURCE The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
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