Restricting teen driving saves lives, study shows

It's a given: Teens and cars are a dangerous mix.

“It’s something that shouldn’t happen and we have the ability to stop it,” says Scott Hinshaw, a Colorado state trooper.

A fact backed up through statistics, entrenched in the minds of parents and documented endlessly by Hollywood.

Less known until now — whether laws restricting teen driving can help keep them alive.

According to a new federally funded study, they do.

The findings: States with the toughest rules have the fewest fatalities.

Death rates among 16-year-olds are as much as 20 percent lower in the strictest states.

"The more restrictions the better,” says Susan Baker with Johns Hopkins University. “The more restrictions, the lower the crash rate of 16-year-old drivers.”

Maida Suljic, 16, is a student of the streets, just three months behind the wheel. In Illinois, that means only one passenger under 20.

She can't use a phone while driving, and there's a nighttime curfew she says feels like a leash.

“We try not to break the law, but sometimes we have to,” Suljic says.

More than 40 states restrict young drivers to study their effectiveness. The limits include restrictions on night driving and the number of teen passengers. Minimum ages for permits and licenses — and waiting periods for both. And a required number of hours driving under adult supervision.

Some states use all of these. Others, only a few.

But there’s another factor steering teen safety behind the wheel, and experts say it’s just as important: The conversations going on here between parents and their teens.

“The parents can say even if this isn’t the law of our state, we’re going to make it the law of our house,” says Nicole Nason of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

More limits for the rookies of the road may prevent them from driving to distraction.