Originally created 07/23/98

Laws credited with lowering teen traffic deaths



ATLANTA -- The number of young drivers who died behind the wheel fell 20 percent in 1997, a dramatic decline that traffic authorities credit to the first year of tough new laws.

The number of 16- to 20-year-old drivers killed in the state fell from 157 in 1996 to 126 last year, the Department of Public Safety reported Tuesday.

The number of injuries in crashes involving teen-age drivers also fell, from 38,237 in 1996 to 36,872 last year.

The laws that went into effect July 1, 1997, restrict the number of passengers teens can carry and put a curfew on young drivers. Also included were zero tolerance on alcohol, tough anti-speeding provisions and ties to school attendance.

State Patrol spokesman Gordy Wright said the provisions resulted in 13,350 license suspensions or revocations as of this month.

"That proves our point: Laws and legislation work," said John Morris, who heads the nonprofit Teen Driver Safety Council. "Georgia might have seen one of the most significant reductions in injury rates in the nation."

Overall, 205 teen-agers died in Georgia crashes last year, down from 262 in 1996. And deaths among passengers in crashes involving teen drivers also declined, from 330 to 275.

"The lower crash statistics are encouraging, but we still have a long way to go," said Col. Sid Miles, who heads the Department of Public Safety.

Col. Miles noted that drivers between 16 and 20 were involved in one of every four wrecks and one of every 10 people killed.