First author Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said the vast majority of states have laws that limit teen driving privileges and impose stiff penalties for driving under the influence.
Graduated driving licensing laws limit the number of passengers young drivers may transport and how late at night they're allowed to drive, among other restrictions, Cavazos-Rehg said.
"Teens in states with the strongest laws were less likely to drive after drinking or to ride in a car with a driver who had been drinking," Cavazos-Rehg said in a statement. "In states with the toughest laws, teens were half as likely to engage in those risky behaviors."
U.S. teens comprise less than 5 percent of licensed drivers in the country, but they account for roughly 20 percent of motor vehicle crashes, Cavazos-Rehg said.
"In the last decade, most states have strengthened their graduated licensing laws," Cavazos-Rehg said. "States are learning that a benefit of enacting more restrictive laws is a reduction in risky behavior by young drivers. That can lead to fewer accidents and save lives."
The study is published online ahead of the September print edition in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.