DES MOINES (AP) — Tougher restrictions on Iowa's teenage drivers could have saved the lives of 32 young drivers and $200 million in 2009, according to a national report on graduated driver licensing laws, which place restrictions on teen drivers that are eased as they mature and gain experience behind the wheel.
The report suggests tougher standards including requiring drivers to be 16 before earning a learner's permit, extending restrictions on drivers through age 17 and restricting passengers to no more than one nonfamily passenger under age 21 unless a licensed driver older than 21 is in the vehicle.
The report was released by the Allstate Foundation, a nonprofit arm of insurance giant Allstate. The foundation provided funding for the reported study, which was conducted by the National Safety Council.
The report sugested that in Nebraska, tougher restrictions on teenage drivers could have saved the lives of 26 young drivers and $200 million in 2009.
"Driving a car is the most dangerous thing we let our kids do," said Daniel McGehee, director of the Human Factors and Vehicle Safety Research Program at the University of Iowa.
It troubles McGehee that teen driving deaths are falling nationally, but have remained flat or increased slightly among 16- to 18-year-old drivers in Iowa.
"We are not where we should be," he said. "Young drivers are the most vulnerable to economic conditions. We drive less when gas is expensive and jobs are scarce, but we're not seeing the drop that other states are from similar conditions."
The report said the estimate of lives saved was based on a 2007 national review of state graduated driver licensing laws.
Nationally, if all states implemented such laws, an estimated 2,000 lives and $13.6 billion could have been saved, the report said.
The costs include wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses for public and private insurance, police and legal costs, motor vehicle damage, employers' uninsured costs and fire losses, the foundation said. These costs were paid by employers, state and local government and by citizens through taxes, fees and insurance premiums, spokeswoman Mele Telitz said in an email to the Associated Press on Tuesday.
Nationally, the report showed Texas could have saved 211 lives and $1.4 billion in 2009, and Florida could have saved 181 lives and $1.2 billion.
Iowa has a graduated driver's licensing program, but it's not as strict as programs in other states.
The state is one of six nationwide to allow learner's permits for those under age 15. Iowa allows learner's permits at 14 and also provides for school licenses, which allow teens as young as 14½ to drive to and from school without an adult driver in the vehicle.
Iowa enacted restrictions on using cellphones while driving, which went into effect in July 2010. Virtually all drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. Less experienced drivers, predominantly those ages 14 to 17, aren't allowed to use cellphones at all while behind the wheel.
The presence of a passenger nearly doubles the odds of a fatal crash, the Allstate study found. In the past six months, Iowa has seen at least two fatal crashes involving five or more teenagers in a vehicle, said McGehee.
Studies have shown carloads of teenagers engage in what's known as "group texting," McGehee said.
"Everyone in the car is texting or checking Facebook on their phones," he said. "The driver feels left out and starts texting. There is literally no one at the wheel."
Iowa lawmakers considered tightening passenger requirements in the 2011 session, but no proposals made it to the House or Senate floor.
Further restrictions in the 2012 session are possible, but are not at the top of the agenda, lawmakers said.