The youngest new drivers on the roads do not have the highest crash rates, a new study has claimed.

Researchers led by the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) found that new drivers who get their license before 18 and are subject to mandatory driver education – including behind-the-wheel training and Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) restrictions – are less likely to crash than young drivers turned 18 who are exempt from such requirements.

Currently only 15 states have comprehensive licensing requirements that include behind-the-wheel training at a licensed driving school, in addition to other methods like classroom or online instruction, parent-supervised practice driving, and learner permit holding periods.

In states with GDL restrictions but no professional behind-the-wheel training requirements, the youngest novice drivers have the highest crash rates.

To determine the potential benefit of behind-the-wheel training, researchers focused on Ohio – the state requires this training in addition to GDL for drivers licensed before age 18, but not for drivers 18 and older – and used data to determine whether drivers licensed before age 18 were better prepared and less likely to crash than older newly licensed drivers exempt from these requirements.

Researchers found drivers who were licensed at age 18 and therefore exempt from comprehensive licensing requirements had the highest crash rates in the first year of licensure of all those licensed under the age of 25.

“Unlike conventional thinking, this study shows that we should not assume that the youngest new drivers will have the highest crash rates,” said the study’s lead author Elizabeth Walshe, PhD, a research scientist at CIRP at CHOP.

“With comprehensive licensing requirements, these younger drivers can perform better than older novice drivers who are exempt from these requirements. All novice drivers need the proper training that leads to developing the critical driving skills needed to avoid crashes.”