Late last month, Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order that allowed nearly 20,000 Georgia teens to get their driver’s licenses without having to take a road test. Officials said the relaxation of rules was to simplify lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Kemp’s order generated negative headlines around the nation and raised concerns across the state that he was unleashing thousands of untested drivers on our streets, roads and highways. People worried that the governor was adding to safety worries rather than eliminating one.

A few days ago, Kemp put his order into reverse by issuing a new, superseding order that requires teens to be road-tested by Sept. 30.

Are teen drivers dangerous?

The initial executive order, backlash and then the reversal raises a couple of interesting questions, however: were people unreasonably afraid that teen drivers cause motor vehicle crashes? Or were those concerns of unsafe teens justified?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered in Atlanta, supplies all the data needed to satisfactorily answer those questions.

The CDC says teen drivers are indeed a danger to themselves and to others. The federal agency says unequivocally on its website that “motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.”

Grim stats

  • 2,364: the number of teens ages 16 to 19 who were killed in crashes in 2017
  • 300,000: the number of teens who were treated for injuries in ERs suffered in wrecks that year
  • 6: the average number of teens who died in crashes every day in 2017

Teens accounted for a disproportionate share of motor vehicle injury costs that year. While teens 15-19 represented 6.5 percent of the nation’s population, they accounted for 8 percent of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries (both fatal and nonfatal).

Consider this, too: the CDC states that the risk of car crashes is higher among teens than it is for any other age group. In fact, teen drivers ages 16-19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers 20 and above to be in a fatal wreck.

Highest risks of all

The teens at the highest crash risk: males 16-19 are more than two times more likely than female drivers of the same age to be killed in a motor vehicle accident.

And the youngest teen drivers are also at high risk: the crash rate for 16-year-olds is 1.5 times higher than it is for 18- and 19-year-olds.

A lot of motorists (and parents of teens) are relieved that the governor has rethought and revised his executive order.