Limiting the opportunity for teens to drive at night has been found to reduce criminal activity, suggests a new study.
While University of Texas at Dallas investigators expected that teen driving curfews would reduce car accidents, they also discovered a reduction in nighttime driving was associated in a reduction of teen crimes.
Arrests among teens ages 16-17 fell by as much as six percent in states with laws that restrict nighttime driving hours for teens, according to the study.
The research by Dr. Monica Deza and economist and co-author Dr. Daniel Litwok appears online in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
Most states’ graduated driver licensing programs have nighttime restrictions. The programs typically include supervised learning and intermediate stages before young drivers receive full-privileged licenses.
The programs have been proven to be successful at reducing risky behaviors that cause accidents. The new study is one of the first to examine the programs’ potential impact on crime.
“Being able to drive or having friends who can drive is the difference between going out and staying home on a Saturday night,” Deza said.
“It seemed intuitive to us that having a curfew on driving hours affected the probability that teenagers would get themselves into trouble.”
Deza and Litwok analyzed the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report arrest data from 1995 to 2011. They compared arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds to arrests of young adults ages 18 and older in states with the nighttime driving curfew for new drivers.
Overall, arrests of the younger teens decreased by four to six percent. The reduction was even higher in the states with the strictest laws. In those states, arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds declined five to eight percent.
The biggest crime reductions occurred in states that had graduated license programs in place the longest. The types of crimes most affected were serious offenses including manslaughter, murder and larceny.
Arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds dropped 11 percent for manslaughter or murder, five percent for larceny, and four percent for aggravated assault.
The driving limitations appear to reduce crime in a variety of manners. Driving restrictions keep teens off the roads, lessen the influence of peers and change teen behavior, which may have contributed to the reduction in arrests, Deza said.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the laws were most effective when gasoline prices were at their lowest, when teens were likely to drive the most. The restrictions prevented those teen drivers from taking full advantage of the affordable gas prices, according to researchers.
“As policymakers become concerned with how low gasoline prices affect risky behaviors among teens, they may want to take into account the role of graduated driving licensing in keeping teenagers off the streets, even in periods in which the cost of driving is particularly low,” Deza said.
The new findings suggests policymakers should have a new appreciation for graduated driving license programs.
Deza said that analyses of the costs and benefits of the programs should include the policy’s impact on crime. She said that previous analyses may have underestimated graduated licensing programs’ benefit by not factoring in crime.
Deza and Litwok initially conducted separate studies. The authors combined their research after yielding identical results.