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A new nationwide study has found that strong driver’s-license laws have led to fewer fatal crashes among 16-year-olds, but also may have contributed to more fatal accidents among 18-year-olds. Many states, including Colorado, require young drivers to get extensive experience, including driving with an adult, before getting a full license. But in most states, those laws apply only to those younger than 18. The new study suggests some teens are just putting off getting a license until they turn 18 — meaning they have little experience and higher chances for a deadly crash.

The study examined fatal crashes from 1986 to 2007 involving 16- to 19-year-olds and the results appear in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. Most previous studies also have linked graduated-licensing programs with a decline in fatal-crash rates among young teens, but evidence on the effects in older teens is mixed.

Every state has some type of graduated-driver-licensing program. These typically allow full, unrestricted licenses to those younger than 18 only after several months of learning while driving with an adult, followed by unsupervised driving with limits on things such as night driving and the number of passengers. In New Jersey, one of the few states where graduated driver-licensing restrictions apply to all first-time applicants younger than 21, there has been lower crash rates among 17- and 18-year-olds.

The study authors analyzed fatal-crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration​ and information on each state’s licensing programs. Comparing states with the most restrictions versus those with the weakest laws or no restrictions, there were 26 percent fewer fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers. But for 18-year-old drivers, there were 12 percent more fatal crashes.

Researchers estimate that since the first graduated-licensing program began in 1996, the programs have been associated with 1,348 fewer fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers but with 1,086 more fatal crashes involving 18-year-old drivers. The differences are estimates, taking into account factors that also would influence fatal-crash rates, including seat-belt laws, changes in minimum-speed limits and the fact that 18-year-old drivers outnumber 16-year-old drivers.

Evidence suggests that many teens are waiting until they’re older to get their licenses. In a nationwide survey of almost 1,400 teens published last month in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention, 1 in 4 who were 18 and hadn’t obtained a license cited the hassle of licensing requirements as a reason.

In Colorado, if you are between 15 and 15 ½ years old when you apply for your permit, you’ll receive a Driver Education Permit. In order to qualify for your permit once you are 15, you need to complete a DMV-approved drivers education course and receive an affidavit of completion.

Once you pass the Colorado written permit test, you’ll be issued a Driver Education Permit, if you are younger than 15 years and 6 months old. If you are between 15 years 6 months and 16 years old, you’ll get a Drivers Awareness Permit and if you’re 16 to 21 years old, you will be issued a Minor Instruction Permit. If you hold your instruction permit for at least 12 months and meet all of the conditions, you can then apply for the road test and obtain a minor drivers license. A minor drivers license will expire 20 days after you turn 21.

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